March 4, 2024

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety is not just a mental struggle; it can also take a significant toll on the body. When a person experiences anxiety, their body activates the "fight, flight, or freeze" response, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This natural reaction prepares the body to face perceived threats, but when anxiety becomes chronic, these physical symptoms can become persistent and debilitating.

the physical toll of anxiety

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Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on March 4, 2024

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Many people don’t realize that physical anxiety symptoms can manifest and have an effect on one’s life. The reality is that Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, affecting over 40 million adults in the United States alone. While many associate anxiety with emotional symptoms like excessive worrying, feelings of fear, and racing thoughts, it also frequently causes physical symptoms.  When anxious feelings become extreme, ongoing, and disrupt daily life, a person may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Understanding and properly addressing the physical symptoms is crucial for effectively managing anxiety and safeguarding overall health and well-being.

Anxiety is deeply connected between the mind and body. When you experience worried thoughts, feelings of panic, or perceived threats, this activates the body's physiological stress response. Increased heart rate, muscle tension, headache pain, and other physical sensations are triggered by biological changes like adrenaline and cortisol and alterations in nervous system functioning. So, while catalysts for anxiety may be emotionally or psychologically rooted, the way the brain communicates reactions through the central nervous system, hormones, and neurotransmitters explains why distinctly physical symptoms manifest.

Understanding the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Feeling physical sensations like a pounding heart or tensed muscles when stressed is normal. However, those with anxiety disorders often experience these fight-or-flight reactions even when no real danger is present. As the mind fixates on anxious thoughts, it continuously activates the body’s stress response. Over time, this can translate into a wide range of pronounced physical symptoms.

Common Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Here are the most common physical symptoms of Anxiety to know. 

Ongoing anxiety and activation of the body’s stress response burn through energy reserves, leading to pronounced decreased stamina and chronic feelings of tiredness or weakness. Trying to maintain normal activity levels against the fatigue caused by anxiety often proves challenging, significantly reducing one’s overall productivity and quality of life.

Linking Mind and Body

When confronted with a stressor, the brain instantly prepares the body to face a perceived threat or danger through the fight-or-flight response. Heart rate spikes to pump blood to major muscle groups, respiration increases to maximize oxygen intake, digestion halts to reserve energy and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flood the system.  While an invaluable survival mechanism when confronting immediate physical threats, anxiety frequently triggers this response even if a threat isn’t present. As the mind fixates on anxious thoughts, it continuously activates the body’s stress response. Over time, this can translate into a wide range of pronounced physical symptoms. Leaving anxiety unchecked not only takes a toll on daily functioning and quality of life but can also contribute to long-term health complications like high blood pressure, digestive disorders, chronic pain, stroke, and heart disease.

Strategies for Alleviating Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Implementing positive lifestyle changes, relaxation techniques, and professional treatment can all help manage the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Lifestyle Modifications

Your overall health habits have a significant impact on anxiety levels. Be sure to focus on:

  • Regular exercise –Aim for 30 minutes daily to alleviate muscle tension, improve sleep, and boost mood.
  • Balanced nutrition – Keep blood sugar stable and reduce inflammation through a diet focused on lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Stay hydrated and limit alcohol and caffeine.  
  • Adequate sleep – Stick to a regular sleep-wake cycle and aim for at least 7-9 hours per night to allow the body to rest and recover fully.

In moderation, many of the physical sensations caused by anxiety are normal and not inherently dangerous or damaging. However, leaving chronic, severe anxiety unmanaged can increase risks for specific health issues over time like cardiovascular conditions, chronic pain, digestive complications, diabetes risk, obesity, and hormone dysregulation. Seeking treatment is crucial for coping with immediate physical symptoms that interfere with daily life and work and reducing the chances of long-term medical consequences. Stay connected with your healthcare provider, be aware of any symptom changes, and don't hesitate to access therapeutic resources.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

When you feel anxiety building, activating the body’s relaxation response is essential to calm both mind and body. Useful strategies include:

  • Deep breathing –  slows racing thoughts and lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – Systematically tensing and relaxing muscle groups interrupt the body’s stress response.
  • Meditation and mindfulness – help clear the mind, promote relaxation, and reduce worry.
  • Yoga – Combining physical movement, deep breathing, and mindfulness provides full mind-body benefits.


The Wide Reach of Anxiety's Physical Toll

Over 75% of people with an anxiety disorder experience multiple physical symptoms, including muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, racing heart rate, nausea, and dizziness. These physical manifestations can be extremely disruptive to regular functioning and often compound anxious thoughts. Implementing stress management skills and seeking medical and therapeutic treatment is important to alleviate symptoms.

Professional Interventions

For moderate to severe anxiety, professional treatment is often needed to control symptoms effectively. This may involve:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT helps identify and alter distressing thought patterns and behaviors perpetuating anxiety.
  • Medications – Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can regulate brain chemistry to help calm the body’s stress response.
  • Healthcare provider consultations – Doctors can check for underlying health issues, offer lab testing, and connect patients with mental health specialists.
  • Inpatient or residential care – When physical symptoms of anxiety are having a major impact on your day-to-day life, it is sometimes necessary to get inpatient or residential treatment for anxiety. 

Get Residential Treatment for Anxiety at Cornerstone in Arizona

Inpatient or Residential Treatment for Anxiety

Residential treatment can be a highly effective approach for individuals struggling with severe anxiety disorders. In a residential setting, patients receive round-the-clock care and support from a multidisciplinary team of mental health professionals. 

This immersive environment allows for intensive therapy, including individual and group sessions, to address the root causes of anxiety and develop coping strategies. Patients also benefit from a structured daily routine, which can help reduce anxiety-induced chaos and establish healthy habits. 

Additionally, residential treatment facilities often incorporate holistic therapies like mindfulness, yoga, and art therapy, which can help manage physical symptoms of anxiety and promote overall well-being. 

By removing the individual from the stressors and triggers of daily life, residential treatment provides a safe and supportive space to focus on healing and recovery from anxiety disorders.

Finding Relief Through Integrative Care

Given the profound ways anxiety manifests physically, it’s crucial to take an integrative approach that incorporates both traditional and complementary therapies to find relief. 

Cornerstone Healing Center specializes in utilizing modalities like lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, psychotherapy, and nutritional therapies to address anxiety’s mental and physical symptoms. Our holistic perspective recognizes the mind and body connection. 

By addressing unhealthy thought patterns in counseling, calming the nervous system through relaxation skills, and supporting physical health through nutrition and movement, we can help guide the body from the overactive stress response. 

As anxious thoughts subside, physical symptoms tend to alleviate significantly as well. Seeking whole-person care not only dramatically improves one’s quality of life but can prevent long-term health consequences tied to uncontrolled anxiety.

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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