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How to Recognize the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety is way more common than you probably realize. If you have anxiety, you are like most of your fellow humans. Anxiety, or the fight-flight-freeze mode of our sympathetic nervous system, is an evolutionary process that has kept our species alive for hundreds of thousands of years. "Don't eat those berries, or you'll die!" "Watch out for that bear, or you'll die!" "Don't make the other members of the tribe mad, or they'll kick you out and you'll die!" The problem is, now we have a much smaller risk of dying all the time. Our brains, based on the way they've evolved, don't quite realize that and so now it's making the assumption that arriving to work late or getting into an argument with a friend or being late on a bill payment will kill us, even though it won't.



Anxiety also ranges a lot. While having some is a part of the normal human experience. Having a lot of it can be problematic, especially when it stops us doing things that are important to us. I've had personal experience with anxiety causing problems in my day-to-day life and relationships. I understand how debilitating it can be. Yet I also know from experience that overcoming anxiety is completely possible! But let's backtrack a bit, because a lot of people are unaware of the physical symptoms of anxiety. You may experience a symptom and think it's weird that you do, or your brain may tell you your symptoms are a health problem (which is possible and it's helpful to see your family doctor at least once a year for a physical). These symptoms might also just be anxiety, which gives you a few options for treatment.


Common symptoms of anxiety:

  • heart palpitations

  • shallow breathing or difficulty breathing

  • sweating

  • shaking, fidgeting or twitching

  • hot or cold flashes

  • tension in the body (most common in the neck and shoulder but can occur anywhere)

  • tightness in the chest

  • butterflies or similar feelings in the stomach

  • restlessness

  • difficulty sleeping and/or fatigue

  • gastrointestinal issues

If you have more than one of these, there is a chance you have anxiety. Also, it's important to remember that having anxiety doesn't necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. There are a number of different anxiety disorders with specific symptoms and diagnostic criteria. To be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in most places you need to see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or your GP. Treatment of anxiety, disorder or not, usually comes in three options: (1) medication, which treats the biological aspects of anxiety and often brings relief; (2) counselling, which helps with the psychosocial aspects of anxiety and focuses on coping skills; (3) both medication and counselling, which research has shown is the best combination for treating anxiety.



If you have chronic pain or illness or post-concussion syndrome you are more likely to have or to develop anxiety. For counselling options book a free consultation.

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