My untreated invisible illness used to make each and every day a living nightmare. I was constantly exhausted from trying to push through this low-level, underlying uneasiness that I tried to attribute to everything else besides what it actually was. My anxiety, y’all — it was my anxiety. In fact, I didn’t even decide to seek treatment for my anxiety until it started manifesting physically.
It wasn’t a flash of panic or a brief worry spell that pushed me over the edge. Oh no, my friends. I’d been having difficulty taking a deep breath for some time by that point. Not a sigh, not shortness of breath, but that deep, relaxing, filling your lungs all the way kind of breath. I couldn’t do it. I would pace my office back and forth, looking like a madwoman. If you listened hard enough, you could hear me under my breath, coaching myself to just breathe, damnit. But I couldn’t. Not standing up, not sitting meditating, not lying down in bed before I fell asleep.
This wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last time my anxiety would manifest physically. Symptoms can range from merely annoying to downright dangerous, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait for things to be really bad to get support and treatment. If you’ve ever experienced any of the following symptoms for no apparent reason or suspect you might be struggling with underlying mental health issues, don’t hesitate to give your provider a call.
How Anxiety Can Physically Manifest
1. Rapid Heart Rate
Fight or flight. We all know the drill. Your brain signals your body to get in high gear and get the hell out of dodge when you’re in trouble. But what happens when you constantly feel like you’re in danger when in fact, you aren’t? If you notice your heart rate monitor going off like you’re running a marathon when in reality you’re sitting down and feeling overwhelmed just thinking, it’s something to talk to your doctor about ASAP.
2. Chills or Sweating
Ugh. Sweaty palms when you’re oh-so-nervous on your first date. Totally normal, right? Do you know what’s not normal? Having this hot and cold feeling when you aren’t sick (or going through hormonal changes).
3. Shortness of Breath
Not only is breathing essential to life, but feeling constantly short of breath can definitely increase feelings of anxiety. Taking deep breaths can do wonders and help you calm down. But being unable to do that will exacerbate said cycle of anxiety (please see above lived experience).
4. All the Digestion Issues
Digestion issues, indigestion, and upset stomach. No, this isn’t an ad for Pepto Bismol (if only the fix was that easy). Have you ever felt so nervous your stomach was in knots? Well, it turns out anxiety can drastically impact your digestion. Whether you’re experiencing unprovoked episodes of constipation, diarrhea, or dealing with an upset stomach, issues with your nerves can absolutely be to blame.
5. Burning Sensations or Sharp Pains
You know how badly your skin hurts to the touch when you have a bad sunburn? Well, imagine those same feelings without getting any extra sun. This is one of the more unusual symptoms that can come with having anxiety. Your skin feeling sensitive to the touch, or experiencing unexplained sharp pains, has to do with the fact that your nervous system (brain) is connected to every other system in your body. In this case, the peripheral nervous system (body) is getting a message that things are off and result in everything going haywire.
6. Tightness in Your Chest
When you’re feeling anxious, your body goes into overdrive to protect you. Your heart is working harder and pumping more blood faster to allow your body to run and work as hard as it can to protect you from the perceived threat. A combination of your heart overworking and taking in too much oxygen can cause tightness or pain in your chest.
7. Phantom ringing
The best way to describe this is those few moments before and after a bomb goes off in action movies. Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion, and suddenly you can hear everything. Even the buzz of that tiny little bee, several feet off in the distance. Even if there is no actual noise, your heightened sense of hearing is another flex of mother nature’s built-in protection plan for when your nervous system thinks it’s encountering a threat.
8. Blurred Vision
Just like everything else on this list, blurred vision is the result of a fight-or-flight reaction for which your brain tells your body to prepare. Your eyes are preparing to see everything more clearly, which ironically blurs your vision. Because again, there is no huntsman off in the distance that you have to zero in on to avoid being captured.
9. Low-Level Shaking Vibration
This is a tough one to describe if you’ve never personally experienced it. But if I had to, I’d say it’s like there is a slight, underlying shaking sensation throughout my entire body. I notice it in my hands mostly. When I stand up, I feel like I have to steady myself. When I open a package or hand something off, I waver a bit. Between my therapist and my primary doctor, we’ve discovered this low-level vibration is the result of my adrenaline (fight or flight) being constantly turned on for such a long time. Basically, my switch is broken and stuck in the on position no matter what I do to turn it off.
Please, Don’t Suffer in Silence
These nine symptoms are not an all-inclusive list. Everyone experiences anxiety differently, but if you are experiencing any of the above without an obvious reason, it’s definitely worth talking to your doctor about.
Just because mental health challenges and illnesses might be invisible to the world around you doesn’t mean that you don’t feel their impact in a very real way. No one should have to suffer in silence.
Take it from someone who did. Things absolutely can and will get better once you start practicing self-care. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish, and you can’t pour from an empty cup.