You're no stranger to feelings of worry and tension. While anxiety is a normal human emotion that can even be helpful at times, for many it manifests in a way that is deeply distressing and disruptive. The anxiety you experience goes beyond the typical stresses of everyday life. It seizes control of your body and mind, flooding you with sensations and thoughts that are difficult to escape. Your anxiety has physical symptoms that often catch you by surprise and are frightening to experience. You may feel alone in your struggle, but anxiety and the havoc it wreaks on the body and mind are more common than you realize. There are ways to better understand your anxiety, recognize the signs, and establish control over your life once again.
WHAT IS ANXIETY AND HOW DOES IT IMPACT YOUR BODY?
Anxiety is a common mental health condition that can have a significant impact on your body. When you feel anxious, your body goes into "fight or flight" mode, releasing adrenaline and cortisol. This can cause a variety of physical symptoms:
1. Racing Heart and Chest Tightness
Feeling panicked or worried leads to an increased heart rate and a tightening in your chest. This is your body's way of preparing to respond to a threat, even when there is none.
The stress hormones released during anxiety and worry can sap your energy levels, leaving you feeling drained and tired. Chronic anxiety may lead to long-term fatigue and exhaustion.
3. Stomach Issues
Anxiety and stress wreak havoc on the digestive system. One may deal with nausea, diarrhoea, cramps, bloating, gas, or loss of appetite. The gut and the brain are deeply connected, so anxiety manifests in your stomach.
4. Shortness of breath
You may find yourself breathing rapidly, feeling smothered, or unable to catch your breath. This is your body's way of getting more oxygen into your bloodstream, even though there is no real threat. Some deep breathing techniques can help slow your breathing and ease this symptom.
5. Muscle tension
Anxiety causes your muscles to tense up, especially in your neck, back, and shoulders. You may experience pain, soreness, or muscle spasms. Gentle massage, heat, and stretching can provide relief from chronic tension. Warm baths, exercise, and yoga are also helpful for loosening tight muscles.
6. Feeling Detached or Zoned Out
During intense anxiety or panic attacks, you can feel disconnected from yourself or your surroundings. You may experience depersonalization, feeling as if you're outside your body, or derealization, where things around you seem unreal. This is a defence mechanism your mind employs to protect itself during traumatic stress.
ZONING OUT AND FEELING NUMB: DISSOCIATION CAUSED BY ANXIETY
When anxiety takes hold in your body, it can manifest in ways that make you feel detached and numb. Anxiety-induced dissociation causes you to “zone out” and feel separated from yourself or your surroundings.
You may find yourself staring off into space, lost in worried thoughts. Time may pass in a blur as your mind keeps racing to the worst possible scenarios. Often, while experiencing dissociation, the world around you can seem unreal like you're watching life unfold on a movie screen.
Physically, you could experience tingling sensations, muscle twitching or tension, rapid heartbeat, nausea, or chest pain. Mentally, you may have trouble concentrating or making decisions. Emotionally, you could feel irritable, panicky or apathetic. These distressing symptoms often fuel the cycle of anxiety and dissociation.
The good news is dissociation caused by anxiety is typically short-lived and not dangerous. However, if episodes occur frequently or last for extended periods, it can significantly impact your quality of life. Some self-help strategies to manage dissociative anxiety include:
Practice deep breathing and mindfulness techniques. Taking slow, deep breaths can help shift your mind from panic to calm. Spending a few minutes focused on your breath or the present moment can decrease feelings of detachment.
Engage in light exercise like walking or yoga. Exercise and mental health are quite related, it releases feel-good hormones that combat anxiety and stress. Gentle movement or stretching helps ground you in your body.
Challenge negative and worrisome thoughts. Notice the thoughts that trigger your anxiety and replace them with more balanced and realistic thinking. This can help prevent the cycle of anxiety and dissociation.
Connecting with others. Call a friend or family member, or engage in an online support group. Social interaction and bonding can help decrease feelings of detachment and remind you that you are not alone.
Seek professional support. A therapist can help determine if an anxiety disorder or other condition is present and provide treatment. Therapy and medications are often very effective for managing dissociative symptoms.
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be frightening, but recognizing them for what they are—a response to a perceived threat that will pass—can help you stay calmer in the moment. Be gentle with yourself, listen to your body's cues, and make self-care a priority. Use coping strategies, and know that you will return to baseline as your anxiety subsides. Anxiety is a very human experience, with awareness and compassion, you absolutely have the power to thrive.