7 Physical Signs Of Anxiety That Can Manifest Even When You’re Not Stressed
Chances are, if you’re feeling anxious about something, your mind begins to race as you consider all of the possible outcomes. Or maybe you notice that your palms start sweating and your heart begins to beat a little faster than usual. Sometimes though, subtle physical signs of anxiety could show up even when you’re not stressed, and according to experts, there are plenty of ways to cope with them.
There is a difference between an anxiety disorder and occasional anxiety, and recognizing which one you’re experiencing can help you determine what strategies to use. “Occasional anxiousness is normal and occurs in response to a stressor, for example, an upcoming exam, presentation or beginning a new job,” Dr. Lawrence Weinstein, mental health expert and chief medical officer at American Addiction Centers, tells Bustle. If you’re feeling particularly stressed at the same time that you’re anticipating a big event or challenge, then you’re probably experiencing anxiousness. On the other hand, an anxiety disorder, Dr. Weinstein says, means that this feeling of anxiousness can be constant and coupled with other debilitating symptoms. These symptoms can last for months and affect everyday life, he says, so while finding ways to cope with physical signs of activity can be helpful, seeking professional help for anxiety can help you begin to address it in a more permanent way.
Here are some small anxiety signs you may notice, even if you don’t feel stressed.
1. Craving More Salty Foods Than Usual
If you're usually more of a sweets fan, but suddenly find yourself preferring French fries to your favorite chocolate bar, a flip-flop like this might not be totally random. Licensed mental health counselor Brittany A. Johnson, LMHC, tells Bustle that an increased urge to eat salty foods is one subtle sign that you’re struggling with anxiety, even if you don’t feel particularly stressed. Eating pizza is one way to appease these cravings, but if you want to address the root of this symptom, try deep breathing, Johnson says. Set aside a couple of minutes throughout your day to focus your mind and connect with your breath.
2. A Sharper Sense Of Smell
Does your favorite soup suddenly smell like it has gone bad, or your favorite candle now seems overpoweringly pungent? “Anxiety makes individuals more sensitive to smell,” licensed therapist Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, tells Bustle. Things that don’t smell bad to most people tend to smell bad to people with anxiety, he says.
To cope with this symptom, try grounding your body using your sense of smell, Christine Scott-Hudson, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. Try carrying an unused sachet of your favorite tea or diffusing an essential oil that helps to relax your body and mind. Think back to good memories that are connected to scents, and try to bring those into your day to help with anxiety, Scott-Hudson says.
3. Itchy Skin
Anxiety might manifest in your skin through excessive itchiness or even a heat rash, high performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais tells Bustle. To help calm your body down, try spending some time doing a physical activity. “Exercise helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and oxygenates our system, including our brain which helps clear the mind,” Dr. Gervais says. You don’t have to hit the gym for a long workout session, though. Only a few moments of activity can make a big difference on your anxiety levels. Try going for a brisk walk with a friend during your lunch break or chasing your pup around the dog park for some relief.
4. Digestive Problems
“Often times, anxiety can be seen in gastric-intestinal issues—increased anxiety levels can contribute to diarrhea, constipation, and bloating,” New York City-based psychologist Alex Grundleger, PhD, tells Bustle. Target your body’s stressors by treating yourself to a self-care night. Take a warm bath, use a soothing lotion on your body, and experiment with aromatherapy to help calm your mind down, Dr. Grundleger says. Plus, the warm bath water can physically help soothe your muscles if you’re experiencing constipation and bloating.
5. Constant Fidgeting
If you find yourself wiggling your leg throughout the day or clicking your pen again and again, these may be signs of anxiety even if you don’t think you’re especially stressed. Licensed counselor Dr. Tiffany Young, PhD, LPC-S tells Bustle that people suffering from anxiety can subconsciously develop "ticks" such as leg swinging, nail biting, chewing on objects like pens, twirling their hair, or tapping. Being aware of your anxious habits can help you manage them easier, but taking time to plan out your day before it begins can also be an effective strategy for managing your anxiety levels.
“Anxiety is largely about fear of the unknown,” she says, so writing down tasks you want to accomplish or any important appointments you need to make can relieve your mind of the stress of trying to remember so much throughout the day.
6. Unexplained Pain
Unusual aches and pains can also point to anxiety. Of course, if you took a brand new workout class the night before, feeling stiff or sore the next day could simply be due to the exercise. But if there’s no clear reason why you’re experiencing stomach cramps, muscle aches and tension, or headaches, Charley Melson, LPCC, a clinical therapist at Landmark Recovery, tells Bustle, these pains could be physical manifestations of anxiety. Work to soothe your body by going through a gentle yoga flow, she says. Grounding techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation could also help ease the physical stress.
7. Appetite Changes
Even if you don’t feel stressed at the moment, suddenly being much more hungry than usual or having no appetite at all could both point to anxiety, Laura Rhodes-Levin, LMFT, anxiety specialist and founder of The Missing Peace Center of Anxiety, tells Bustle. This is a great opportunity to really get in touch with your senses, she says. Try smelling your favorite scent, feeling the sun on your face, listening to calming music, or feeling something soft or smooth like a gemstone or rose petal. If you incorporate three of your senses at the same time, Rhodes-Levin says, chances are you’ll begin to feel more at peace.
Next time you notice that your digestion isn’t running as smoothly as usual or you can't seem to sit still during a meeting at work, try turning to some of the anxiety-reducing strategies that work best for you. You might just be having an off day, but the symptoms could be a physical manifestation of your mental state.