How can we redefine anxiety by identifying symptoms anyone can have–without having a full-blown disorder? What signs might point to anxiety you don’t even know you have?
Not only are anxiety disorders among the most common mental health conditions, but 30% of adults will experience anxiety in their life.
Anxiety disorders include but aren’t limited to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. There are also related disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, the definition of anxiety isn’t limited to these diagnoses. Less straightforward symptoms of anxiety can also affect how you feel, act, and relate to other people.
Anxiety isn’t always noticeable. It can remain under the surface while still impacting how you act. Additionally, even if you don’t meet the full criteria for an anxiety disorder, it’s possible to experience anxiety symptoms. Some of them overlap with symptoms of stress, and regardless of the cause, they can interfere with your wellbeing. The mind-body connection, after all, plays a big role in emotional wellness.
When you understand why these symptoms happen, and their connection to anxiety, it helps you get in touch with yourself. If you can redefine anxiety, you can find more opportunities to cope better.
With that in mind, it is time to redefine anxiety. In this article, we will go over some of the less straightforward symptoms of anxiety and talk about what can help.
High functioning anxiety isn’t necessarily a symptom of anxiety, but is important to understand in the process of redefining anxiety. High functioning anxiety refers to anxiety that others might not pick up on, because it contributes to a person’s successful outward image.
Often, those with high-functioning anxiety are high achievers. They may achieve great things at work or appear to be okay socially–but their achievement or sociability are driven by intense internal anxiety, which they might not even recognize.
Essentially, while someone may function–and even over-achieve–their anxiety may still affect their life and inner world. To redefine anxiety, we have to accept that anxiety is not always apparent, and that it may even contribute to a picture of wellbeing.
While there are many possible causes of sore throats, few would expect that anxiety is one of them. However, those who search for “can anxiety cause sore throat” are onto something–it is true indeed that anxiety can cause sore throats.
Anxiety may cause sore throat for a number of different reasons:
First and foremost, it’s worthwhile to note that anxiety can be associated with GERD. Acid reflux or GERD, especially when it’s ongoing, often leads to sore throats.
Additionally, chronic fatigue syndrome, which may result from or contribute to anxiety, is known to come with sore throat.
Some people also experience feeling as though there is a lump in their throat, or they might feel their throat tighten or become dry when they feel anxious. If a sore throat is continuous and worsens during times of high stress or heightened nervousness–anxiety may be the culprit.
Stress and anxiety can cause dry mouth and dry throat. This is because being in “fight or flight mode” can impact the flow of saliva. Dry mouth alone can be uncomfortable, and the lack of saliva associated with anxiety dry mouth can also cause issues with digestion.
Teeth chattering when you’re not cold is often due to anxiety. Even if it’s not a symptom of anxiety highlighted in a clinical diagnosis or evaluation, it’s something that many people self-report. Teeth chattering may be similar to shaking hands or other muscles due to anxiety.
Many professionals are aware that teeth chattering, grinding, and other symptoms can be associated with high levels of anxiety or stress. This may be related to muscle tension and eventual muscle fatigue.
A recent study on Israeli women even found that teeth grinding and facial tension increased in this population due to pandemic-related stress and anxiety in 2020–impacting 50% of the group.
Involuntary face and body movements, like twitching, are all common symptoms of anxiety, but they’re particularly common around the eyes. Twitches around the eyes and involuntary eye movements due to anxiety are also called blepharospasms. These are twitches that aren’t due to disease but can be due to nervousness, tiredness, or too much screen time. Many people find that nutrition can help counter this symptom, because being in “fight or flight” can deplete certain nutrients that make muscle twitching more common.
Anxiety can cause a random cough. This is actually so common that some nickname it an “anxiety cough” or say that they have a “nervous cough.”
Why does it happen? It is said to be due to the vagus nerve, which becomes underactive when a person experiences anxiety. This can lead to a persistent cough (called Arnold’s nerve ear-cough reflex) and other symptoms. Aforementioned reflux and dryness can also play a role in anxiety cough.
To help an anxiety cough, try exercises that stimulate the vagus nerve.
Anxiety can cause these feelings by causing the intercostal muscles to tighten. This can occur in run-of-the-mill anxiety, or in a panic attack.
Some people get the butterflies in their stomach sensation when they’re nervous, but that’s not where the G.I. effects of anxiety end. If you think of a high-stress moment in your life, it’s not unlikely that you would be able to identify a time when one of the following signs took place:
Dry heaving anxiety can happen during panic attacks or in other moments of severe overwhelm. Nausea, changes in appetite, and even higher prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS are common in those with anxiety disorders. Like all of the other symptoms mentioned here, symptoms such as nausea and dry heaving can also occur in people who experience anxiety but don’t meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Nausea episodes may also come along with hyperventilation or shortness of breath.
Nervous energy may cause a person to fidget, pick their skin, or otherwise feel a need to move around. This is brought on by the body’s natural stress response. TIPP exercises can be helpful for these moments.
Do you find yourself getting irritable with the people in your life? Irritability is a common symptom of anxiety, but it’s not one that people talk about often. After all, irritability can come with a great deal of shame. Because of this, not everyone connects that their bouts of irritability are linked to anxiety, even if it happens regularly.
Next time you experience a bout of irritability, check in with yourself and identify whether or not you were nervous or anxious.
What else can anxiety cause that you might not expect?
Anxiety can negatively influence immune system functioning, mood, and decision-making. It can even cause cold hands and feet. Anxiety may also lead to body aches, pain, or fatigue. This may be because anxiety causes overall muscle tightness (not just in the jaw, as in TMJ).
Shortness of breath or hyperventilation may signal anxiety. However, these may also be signs of a more serious condition.
If any of the above symptoms are ongoing, it’s important to talk with a medical professional for individualized advice.
If you notice anxiety symptoms in yourself, there are things you can do. The goal is to learn to soothe the nervous system. The nervous system refers to the network of nerve cells and fibers that transmit nerve impulses between different parts of the body; this is a simple way to explain why mental health concerns like stress, anxiety, and nervousness impact physical health, too. Take the time to slow down, manage stress, turn to social support, and use in-the-moment coping skills such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and cognitive reframing. If you need a place to find catharsis and talk with someone who gets it, try Supportiv. It’s anonymous, available 24/7, and is real peer support that you can access from anywhere.