Everyone's greatest fear is that their anxiety isn't anxiety. They fear that the doctors are missing something and that they are actually suffering from a dangerous and possibly even fatal position that is affecting their heart or brain.
There are two reasons that fear exists. First, because anxiety causes fears - it's a symptom of the anxiety itself. Second, because anxiety can also lead to heart and brain symptoms that are considered identical to actual diseases and illnesses. In this article, we'll explore some of the many neurological symptoms of anxiety.
Is Anxiety Affecting Your Brain?
If you feel you have some brain challenges, first see a doctor. Also, consider taking our free 7-minute anxiety test to score your anxiety symptoms and severity, compare it to others, and find treatment ideas.
Anxiety Severity and Neurological Symptoms
Anxiety severity plays a key role in the development of symptoms that are nearly identical to neurological problems. Make sure you've taken my free 7-minute anxiety test to get a rating on how severe your anxiety appears. Millions of people with anxiety have developed physical issues that resemble such neurological diseases as:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Brain Tumors
- Lyme Disease
The symptoms can be so close to identical that doctors often run countless tests to rule out any of the more serious diseases because they cannot be told apart by symptoms alone.
But anxiety really does cause these symptoms, and unfortunately, anxiety also makes it harder for you to believe your doctors when they tell you that your brain and nerves are healthy.
Examples of Neurological Symptoms From Anxiety
It could be argued that anxiety itself is its own neurological symptom. After all, anxiety can change neurotransmitter levels in your brain causing them to send unusual signals to the rest of your body. But anxiety causes no known neurological damage, and yet still manages to create symptoms such as:
- Tingling Hands and Feet Both adrenaline and hyperventilation can lead to the development of tingling hands and feet, and both are very common with anxiety. Interestingly they both have different actions. Adrenaline dilates the blood vessels and sends the blood to the muscles, while hyperventilation constricts the blood vessels with causes less blood to flow to the hands and feet. Some people experience a tingling, but others may experience a numbness, cold, or burning.
- Nerve Pains - Anxiety can also cause the development of nerve-related pains. The pains are both real and psychological. Known as "psychogenic pain," your brain essentially activates pain censors automatically as a result of anxiety and stress. Even though there is technically no cause of pain other than your anxiety, the pain you experience is genuine.
- Lightheadedness/Dizziness Anxiety can also cause a considerable amount of lightheadedness and dizziness, possibly even with trouble standing or feeling like your legs aren't working. All of these are related to anxiety, especially hyperventilation and rushes of adrenaline. They're especially common in those with panic attacks, but they can affect anyone with anxiety.
- Headaches Anxiety can trigger all types of headaches, including tension headaches and migraines. Migraines may also present with their own symptoms as well, such as eye problems. All of these are known to be triggered by anxiety, though in the case of migraines doctors are still not sure why anxiety seems to cause them more often.
- Vision Problems In addition to migraine-related vision problems and hyperventilation related vision problems, anxiety may also cause your pupils to dilate. If you were in danger, this dilation would be helpful, but since there is no danger, it can also lead to problems with lights, blurry vision, and more.
- Fatigue - Fatigue is also very common with extreme anxiety and seems to occur because of how draining it is to live with anxiety regularly. Since anxiety can also lead to insomnia, some of this fatigue is a lack of sleep, but most of it is due to being emotionally and physically drained after anxiety attacks.
- Memory Loss Perhaps the only "slightly" permanent symptom of anxiety in the brain is memory loss. The memory loss from anxiety is rarely very severe, but it's due to the constant pumping of cortisol, a stress hormone, which appears to cause very mild memory loss in those with anxiety.
- Confusion/De-realization - It is also possible for extreme levels of anxiety to cause issues with things like confusion, and even a temporary loss of reality that makes people worry something is wrong with their brain.
In all of these cases, the severity may be the same as someone with an actual neurological disorder.
How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and Neurological Disorders
Unfortunately, there is simply no way to tell the difference between suffering from anxiety and suffering from some type of serious neurological disorder. The symptoms are extremely similar, and while a few symptoms have some very minor differences (for example, de-realization is temporary, while a neurological disorder may be permanent or much longer lasting), the reality is that there often are no differences. Anxiety really can cause many of the very same symptoms.
That's why it's important to always see a doctor. Even though anxiety is extremely common, a doctor is the only safe way to make sure that you haven't developed a neurological disorder. The key, however, is to make sure that once your doctor says you're okay, you immediately take action in controlling your anxiety. If you continue to wait, you're going to have more neurological symptoms, and ultimately more tests and more anxiety.
And remember, in the extremely rare event that you do have a neurological disorder, controlling anxiety is still important. Your anxiety plays a significant role in not only happiness but also the success of medical treatments. If there is any reason to think that you have anxiety and not a neurological disorder, openly seeking help is incredibly important.
I've worked with many people suffering from neurological anxiety symptoms. To get relief, start with my free 7-minute anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety and what you can do to stop it.
Walters, Allan. Psychogenic regional pain alias hysterical pain. Brain 84.1 (1961): 1-18.
Rolak, Loren A., and John O. Fleming. The differential diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The neurologist 13.2 (2007): 57-72.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 28, 2017.