9 Creepy Feelings You’re Experiencing That Might Actually Be Explained By Anxiety
Anxiety can feel undetectable because it's so hard to pin down. But if you're ever feeling like something is not-quite-right, there's a pretty good chance it's anxiety. Whether you're experiencing a feeling of uneasiness or a physical sensation you can't quite place, it's possible a symptom of anxiety is rearing its head.
Whether or not you have a diagnosable anxiety disorder, there's still a good chance you feel slightly, untraceably off from time to time. This is your body's natural response to fear. "Anxiety is first and foremost a fear response," licensed psychologist Giulia Suro, Ph.D., CEDS, tells Bustle. "Before our brains developed and became complex organs, the earliest humans experienced less than half a dozen emotions. One of them was anxiety ... This development was critical to promote survival. In extreme situations, this is known as the fight or flight response." Today, human brains still perceive threats, but often in much milder place.
You may not feel overtly anxious, but your body still has ways to tell you it's stressed. "Anxiety symptoms aren’t always obvious, and anxiety symptoms can 'whisper' to us, communicating their message through the vocabulary of discomfort," licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H Clark, PsyD, PLLC, tells Bustle. And some of these "whispers" come in the form of creepy sensations.
Here are nine creepy feelings you might be feeling that can actually be explained by anxiety, according to experts.
1. General Heebie Jeebies
The heebie jeebies are the epitome of a creepy feeling. While sometimes a gut sensation like this is actually in response to a serious threat, it can also be a brain reaction to anxiety in general.
"We are constantly receiving information from our environment through our senses," owner and clinical director of Elevate Counseling, Jamie Dana, MC, LPC, tells Bustle. "Sometimes we get that 'gut' feeling that something isn’t right before we are cognizant of what the problem is. ... Knowing where these feelings are coming from can help a person to pause long enough to assess the situation and determine whether the 'creepy' feelings should be addressed or ignored." Having anxiety heebie jeebies is no less legitimate than genuine fear, and can be addressed with a variety of anxiety-relief techniques.
2. Weird Physical Sensations
Anxiety isn't just a mental experience. It also manifests in a variety of physical ways, many of which can feel creepy if you aren't sure what's causing them.
"Anxiety frequently manifests in very physical ways that may make you feel like you are walking around a haunted house," Suro says. "You may feel the hairs standing up on the back of your neck, goosebumps on your arms, a racing heart and a pit in your stomach. All of these are due to increased adrenaline in our bloodstream and are a signal that our body is preparing to bolt." If doing grounding exercises or other stress-relief techniques helps you feel better, than these creepy sensations are likely an anxiety symptom.
3. Feeling Detached
If you ever feel a creepy sensation of floating above yourself, or moving through the day without feeling quite connected, it's possible you're experiencing an anxiety symptom call dissociation.
"Sometimes anxiety can manifest as a dissociative experience where we feel disconnected or detached from reality," Suro says. "The things around us can look weird or wrong [...] This experience, while certainly very creepy, is normal every once and awhile. It is the result of our brain protecting itself when the nervous system becomes overloaded. It is more likely to occur during periods of high stress and anxiety." Of course, if you're particularly concerned, or if this happens frequently, talking to a mental health professional might help.
4. Feeling A Sense Of Foreboding
Feeling like something bad is going to happen soon is definitely creepy. Luckily, it doesn't necessarily mean anything bad is going to happen to you.
"Our thoughts can shift to become foreboding or even paranoid," Suro says. "We may see the world around us as dark and read warning signs in neutral interactions [...] As uncomfortable as this experience is, it may help to recognize that it is a nod to our primitive brain doing what it does best. Early humans were rewarded for being worriers because they were more likely to stay alive compared to others." You have your early human ancestors to thank for this uncomfortable feeling, but can seek some solace in knowing that it will likely pass.
Occasionally, someone might walk into a room unexpected and you might jump. But if you've been going a couple hours, or even a whole day, feeling this sense of physical distress, you might be experiencing a symptom of anxiety.
"Feeling unease in any given situation is a sure sign that you may be suffering from anxiety," health and wellness coach Caleb Backe, tells Bustle. "This one is the hardest to describe and explain because [...] you yourself don’t even know why your body is so on edge but it’s impossible to shake off. This fight-or-flight existence ironically only heightens your anxiety." Again, your primitive brain is trying to protect you, even when it's less-than-helpful.
For those who live with anxiety, a general feeling of dread is a pretty well known symptom. But if you're having this unexplained feeling for the first time, it should be comforting to know that this happens a lot when our brains are processing a lot of emotion.
"Many people who suffer from anxiety are familiar with being in a constant state of dread," Backe says. "The emotional complexity of carrying this feeling for no reason is sometimes more distressing than the emotion itself." If you can't shake this feeling for a long time, seeing a mental health professional to work through the underlying causes might help.
7. Spooky Dreams
Nightmares are some of the creepiest experiences of the human brain. Sometimes it can feel like waking up from your very own personal horror movie. And while often this is just a one-off thing, spooky dreams can also be your brain's way of processing daily anxieties while you sleep.
"Waking up thinking about something unsettling — or dreaming an uncomfortable dream — can leave you feeling off," Dr. Clark says. "Dreams are often the subject of conflicts and dynamics we are uncomfortable about but not fully aware of. Our imagination’s ability to spin disconcerting scenarios and events can leave us feeling uncomfortable, but ultimately bring our attention to anxieties and concerns that matter deeply to us." Finding out common dreams and what they mean might bring you some relief.
8. A Heartbeat In Your Throat
Another unsettling feeling you can trace back to your ancestor's danger response is that weird heartbeat in your throat you get sometimes. While you may feel like a character in a scary movie from this, it's likely you're just experiencing a symptom of anxiety.
"Another expression of the fight-or-flight response is heart palpitations," licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) Lauren McCown, tells Bustle. "In fact, cardiologists are some of an anxiety therapist's best referral sources. You can actually feel heart palpitations in your throat, your neck, or your chest. This is very unsettling for anxiety sufferers." Any heart palpitations are important to check out with a doctor, but with attention, they can become a good way to understand what makes you anxious and when.
9. Shaking Knees
If you've ever felt like your legs are shaking uncontrollably, or you physically keep shaking your leg up and down but aren't quite sure why, you may be experiencing a symptom of anxiety.
"[If you've] ever seen a person waiting in a lobby and their leg in shaking faster than you thought humanly possible, that is anxiety leaving the body," McCown says. "It is an outlet for the stress hormones produced by the fight-or-flight response process." So while leg-shaking may not be the best habit, it can be good to know that it's just your body's way of working through bad feelings.
Any of these symptoms, every once and a while, are perfectly common. If, however, you experience one or all of these relatively frequently, you might be experiencing chronic anxiety. "When you are having symptoms that you can’t seem to explain — you always want to check with a medical professional," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "However, there is a decent chance that if you are otherwise in good health — these creepy symptoms are anxiety rearing its ugly head." Luckily, as creepy as these feelings seem, all of them are treatable.