Sometimes when I'm at a crowded event, I struggle to hear people standing right next to me, but yet all of the other sounds in the room are amplified. This is what's referred to as "hearing sensations," and it turns it's one of the weird physical symptoms of anxiety you probably never knew about. For most of my life I probably would have told you that I didn't have anxiety, in part because I often confused anxiety with panic. I didn't know anxiety was the reason I had racing thoughts, often felt overwhelmed, experienced hearing sensations and tunnel vision, and why I dreaded seemingly non-threatening tasks like going to the grocery store.
"Anxiety has possibly thousands of symptoms, and these symptoms may change depending on the type of anxiety you have and how you respond to it. Bear in mind, not everyone’s anxiety symptoms are the same," Vancouver, B.C.-based registered clinical counsellor Celeste Cai tells Bustle. "There are symptoms that are not in textbooks but they are still considered anxiety. Usually, you will experience some common symptoms, such as lack of concentration, shortness of breath, muscle tensions, sleeplessness, and fatigue. However, not everyone will experience all of these symptoms and some may even experience more unusual ones, such as numbness, tingling, affected hearing, dizziness, twitching, digestion issues, chills, sweating or more."
Because anxiety is my default, and therefore my version of normal, I had no idea that not everyone feels this way. However, despite living most of my life in a perpetual state of anxiety, I have never had any real feelings of panic. I don't worry about things like plane crashes, earthquakes, or the apocalypse. I dreaded everyday things, like answering the phone or going shopping, was no big deal. Additionally, understanding that anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms in the body before the mind is aware what's happening, explains a lot of my seemingly strange physical ticks.
Of course, if you experience any new, uncomfortable sensation in your body, it's worth checking in with your doctor about whether it could be related to your anxiety. Anxiety can make itself known in all kinds of weird ways, and being aware of them is the first step to understanding and, hopefully, eradicating them. Here are just a few.
1. Hearing Sensations
If you have a hard time focusing on conversations while in a group, you might be experiencing affected hearing or hearing sensations. "During intense anxiety when the brain is moving a mile a minute, it's not uncommon to find yourself 'zoning out' to your thoughts, unable to pay attention to the world around you," the Calm Clinic explained on its website. "That means that you may not be able to hear everything someone says while talking to you. It's not that you're not hearing it. Instead, your brain is simply not processing it." What's more, while you might not be able to hear the conversation you're having, you could notice other sounds like creaks, bumps, and even conversations across the room.
2. Numbness In Hands & Feet
OK, I didn't know that anxiety could cause body parts to become physically numb until recently. As Calm Clinic points out, numbness of the hands and arms, as well as the feet and legs, have been linked with anxiety.
3. Dry Mouth
I thought dry mouth was just a side effect of medication — I didn't realize it could also be a symptom of anxiety itself. In fact, according to Delta Dental, anxiety can affect oral health including cankersores, lichen planus (lacy white lines, red areas or mouth ulcers), burning mouth syndrome, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ, also known as TMD), and bruxism (teeth grinding). You can get dry mouth from mouth breathing, acid back up, changes in how your body distributes fluids, or dehydration, according to the Calm Clinic. People who suffer from anxiety are more likely to experience these symptoms than the general population.
If you've ever suddenly felt dizzy for no apparent reason, this might be a symptom of anxiety, especially if it happens on the regular. This has happened to me a few times, and it usually occurs at the airport or at concerts where I feel packed in with too many other people. Dizzy can mean feeling lightheaded or off balance, and it can affect the eyes (blurred vision) and the ears (you might feel like everything sounds far away), according to Healthline.
5. Acne & Other Skin Conditions
"When our brain detects a threat or fear, it alerts the body to prepare for change (fight, flight or freeze) in order to deal with danger," Cai, who is working on creating a journal to help women focus on their inner wellbeing, says. "The fight, flight or freeze response causes the body to release stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones will boost blood sugar levels and blood fats that are used by the body for energy, which helps our body to deal with danger. However, when our alert response is triggered constantly by fears or worries, these hormones become excessive, and can, therefore, cause uncomfortable bodily reactions," such as acne, hives, rashes, or other skin woes.
6. Gastrointestinal Problems
When I'm feeling anxious, it feels like I have to go to the bathroom every five minutes. According to this gut-brain connection explainer from Harvard Medical School, your gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. "The brain has a direct effect on the stomach. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach's juices before food gets there," according to Harvard Health. "This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person's stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That's because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected."
While some people sweat when they get anxious, others get the chills. Indeed, the University of Michigan Health Service notes that "trembling or shaking, sweating or chills" are all symptoms of anxiety disorders.
As Cai says, there are potentially a lot of physical symptoms that you may not realize are happening because you're feeling anxious. Each person is different, so symptoms will not be the same for everyone. Cai suggests journaling for your mental health to help yourself calm down. "Journaling can be an outlet that helps you to destress by releasing your fears, worries and concerns," she explains. As you become more conscious of your negative thoughts and behaviors, you can also provide yourself with an opportunity for positive self-talk."
This can also help you take your focus off of the physical symptoms, and redirect your attention on exploring what is causing your anxiety. I know that anxiety can be debilitating AF, but please know that you're definitely not alone. Signed, a person who experiences night sweats, hearing sensations, dizziness, GI problems, and more.