It’s not “being a worry wart” — or all in your head.
Generalized anxiety disorder goes way beyond nerves before a test. It’s an inescapable dread for daily interactions or crippling fear of the unknown. In fact, there are a number of unexpected anxiety symptoms that your body uses to alert you that you may need help.
Being able to recognize lesser-known signs of an anxiety disorder is critical. If you don’t slow down for your own good, your body might do it for you. For example, unmanaged anxiety may lead to panic attacks, substance misuse, or missed days of school or work. Recognizing the signs early and getting treatment can help prevent these problems.
Unexpected Anxiety Symptoms That Might Show Up In Your Body
As you unwind from the stressors of your day, good luck falling asleep with your mind racing. In fact, many who have a diagnosed anxiety disorder cite insomnia as a common symptom.
2. Extreme tiredness
Obviously, being up all night with anxiety can cause poor sleep quality and tiredness. But that’s not all: The constant feeling of being “on edge” with anxiety can be physically draining. Your dread for the day may cause you to sleep the day away instead. This may create a cycle of sleeping all day, having insomnia at night, and so on.
3. Constant yawning
Beyond fatigue, yawning is also a physical stress response on its own. Anxiety can increase the body’s core temperature, and yawning actually serves as a brain-cooling mechanism. You may find yourself yawning even when you get a good night’s sleep.
4. Irritable bowels or messed up digestion
The stress of anxiety wreaks havoc on your hormones, and those hormones over-communicate with your digestive system. This leads to more muscle contractions and bowel movements, which may cause abdominal pain or a sensitive stomach.
5. Feeling restless, unfocused, and frazzled
Stress and cognitive dysfunction can impair your decisions and the distraction makes it less likely for you to concentrate, so you might have trouble meeting work or school deadlines. This is sometimes referred to as “monkey mind” because it feels like there are monkeys chattering and yakking in your head.
6. Increased forgetfulness
With intrusive thoughts clogging up your brain, you’re less likely to be paying attention to the tasks at hand. It’s hard to remember everything you need to buy at the grocery store when your mind is fretting over something that happened at work.
7. Inability to relax or calm down
You may experience racing, spiraling, or intrusive thoughts. Spiraling can make you physically tense, and it’s often difficult to stop. Those with anxiety often crave distractions to help them avoid or ignore thoughts, so it’s no surprise that substance use is appealing to many.
8. Sore, achy muscles and a tight jaw
Feeling stressed can cause you to hold tension in many parts of your body. This is most commonly felt in the shoulders, glutes, and jaw. In some cases, the muscle tension can then lead to headaches and tooth pain.
Increased heart rate and blood pressure is a natural response to stress, so it’s common to feel faint in moments of panic.
Everyone gets nervous or fearful from time to time. However, if it gets in the way of your daily routine, try out therapy to learn methods that can help you cope. You may also want to consult a psychiatrist to see if medication would benefit you.
- Mehta K, Simonsick E, et al. Prevalence and Correlates of Anxiety Symptoms in Well-Functioning Older Adults: Findings from the Health Aging and Body Composition Study. Jour Amer Ger. 2003, Mar. 51(4):499-504.
- Anxiety Disorders. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Mental Health, 2018. (Accessed on July 28, 2021)
- The four horsemen of forgetfulness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Health Publishing, 2013. (Accessed on July 28, 2021)
- Gupta S, Mittal S. Yawning and its physiological significance. Int J Appl Basic Med Res. 2013 Jan;3(1):11-5.