If you suffer from anxiety, you're definitely not alone: according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 18 percent of the adult population each year. Despite how common it is, though, the details of what it's like to have anxiety aren't often discussed openly — which means that a lot of people may experience some of the physical symptoms of anxiety and not even recognize them. Of course, feeling anxious doesn't just happen to those who've been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder: anxiety is also a feeling that's totally normal to experience from time to time.
"Anxiety, in general, is the reaction to situations perceived as dangerous or stressful," Shoshana Ungerleider, an Internal Medicine Physician based in California, tells Bustle. "Some anxiety is a normal response and can actually be beneficial. However, an anxiety disorder is a condition typically characterized by excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) that can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences that negatively affects someone’s daily life."
There are plenty of common symptoms of anxiety that might sound familiar: feelings of panic or dread, nausea, shortness of breath, and dizziness. But there are also some symptoms that are uncommon, and even just plain weird — here are eight strange physical symptoms of anxiety you shouldn't ignore.
Although visual hallucinations can also be a symptom of anxiety, there's another kind of hallucination you might not even know exists: olfactory hallucinations — aka smelling something that isn't there.
"People can sometimes smell a scent that isn't actually there prior to or during an anxiety or panic attack... [a] phenomenon known as phantosmia," Dr. Janelle Louis, MD, licensed naturopathic doctor at Focus Integrative Healthcare, tells Bustle. "If a person experiences a stressful situation in the presence of a certain smell, they make new neuronal connections, connecting the part of the brain that controls smell with the part that is firing during anxious states or states of panic. The result is that the next time this person experiences similar anxiety or thinks about past trauma, he or she may have an olfactory hallucination of the same smell."
One of the weirdest symptoms of anxiety? It's totally normal to see an increase in how much you burp and/or fart when you're anxious.
"One of the physical changes that happens is increased acid in your stomach causing [gastrointestinal] upset as well as swallowing too much air, leading to belching," Ungerleider says. "Also, blood is shunted away from our hands, feet, and abdomen to our large muscle groups such as thighs and hips."
If you regularly spend restless nights tossing and turning, and have difficulty falling asleep, it's possible that anxiety is the culprit.
"For many, anxiety causes insomnia as people get caught up in thoughts about past events, have excessive worrying about future events, feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities or a general feeling of being overstimulated," Ungerleider says.
Maybe it's just because of the lack of sleep mentioned above, but frequent yawning is yet another strange symptom you might experience if you have anxiety.
"It is unknown why we yawn more when feeling anxious," Ungerleider says. "Some researchers believe it is related to thermoregulation of the brain or triggered by a rise in blood cortisol levels."
5Cold Hands & Feet
If you have an anxiety disorder, it might be a good idea to stock up on gloves and socks — because one of the weird physical symptoms of anxiety is getting cold hands and feet.
"When we become anxious, adrenaline gets released into our body, causing several physical changes that could help you fight 'danger' or run away from it," Ungerleider says. "Blood is shunted away from our hands, feet, and abdomen to our large muscle groups such as thighs and hips. This is a primitive, evolutionary reflex to help us flee from an emergency."
If you've been experiencing diarrhea, and can't figure out the cause, anxiety might be to blame: irritable bowel and gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, constipation, and general discomfort can be caused by anxiety.
"The central nervous system communicates with the nervous system in the gut and in anxiety states, the signals can change to result in diarrhea," Dr. Jennifer Stagg, Naturopathic Physician, tells Bustle.
Experiencing dry mouth is one of the odd symptoms of anxiety, so make sure to always have a water bottle on hand.
But why does being anxious make your mouth go dry? "Feeling anxious or stressed can reduce the flow of saliva in your mouth leading to dry mouth," Ungerleider says.
Whenever you're really anxious about something, you might experience that familiar lump-in-the-throat, jittery-legs feeling — a classic symptom of anxiety.
"Low level anxiety can cause mild shakiness from small amounts of epinephrine," Stagg says. "[And the] sense of lump in the throat, also called globus sensation...is the result of constriction of muscles in the throat."
What To Do If You Feel Anxious
Ultimately, it's important to remember that the presence of some (or even all) of these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder: if you're concerned, the best thing you can do is consult your physician, so you can figure out what might be causing your anxiety and these symptoms.
"Sometimes anxiety is present in subtle ways, and you may not realize you're anxious until things get far down the line," Erika Martinez, Licensed Psychologist, tells Bustle. "That's because the human body is incredibly adaptive to stress, but it has its limits. Get checked out by a physician first to rule out any biological causes. Consult with a physician if medication for anxiety is appropriate in your cases, or if they recommend other forms of treatment. Anxiety is treatable, and you don't have to live like that."
Anxiety might be the most common form of mental illness in America, but that doesn't mean you have to just "deal with it" — and you don't have to be ashamed of it, either. "It's easy to look around you and say, 'I don't have it so bad. Others have it way worse. I need to suck it up and get it together,'" Martinez says. "The problem with that is that you're minimizing and dismissing your own emotions and using others' experiences as points of comparison, which isn't fair to yourself."
No matter how you experience anxiety, your feelings are valid. If you notice symptoms of anxiety and want to figure out how you can treat it, don't be afraid to consult your doctor or a therapist.