Anxiety disorders are common. Roughly 34% of the population will experience an anxiety disorder at one time or another in their lifetime. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association, anxiety disorders affect around 40 million US adults every single year.
Because of this, we've become pretty familiar with some of the more common anxiety symptoms. However, what about the unusual signs of anxiety that most people don't know about?
In this article, we'll explore:
- Typical anxiety symptoms
- Whether anxiety can cause weird sensations
- Unusual mental symptoms of anxiety
- Unusual physical symptoms of anxiety
- Unusual emotional symptoms of anxiety
- Treatment options for anxiety disorders
Typical Anxiety Symptoms
The signs of anxiety differ depending on your type of anxiety disorder: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Panic Disorder, and Specific Phobia. However, some anxiety symptoms are universal, with a high percentage of people with anxiety experiencing them at one point or another.
These include physical symptoms such as feeling shaky, ill, blushing, belching and digestion issues, chills, chest pain and tightness, trouble breathing and shallow breathing, fear, dizziness, difficulty speaking, sweating, muscle tension, low energy and tiredness, lightheadedness, and hyperventilation. Other common anxiety symptoms include:
- Concentration problem
- Feeling overwhelmed
While these are some of the most prevalent anxiety symptoms, other, more unusual symptoms occur. But can we pin this down to anxiety?
Can Anxiety Cause Weird Sensations?
Anxiety activates the body's stress response system, known as the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response triggers the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which cause various physical signs, including a racing heart, high blood pressure, dilated pupils, muscle tension, and a numbed response to pain.
Another physical anxiety symptom caused by activation of the fight or flight system is feeling "on edge." This is what people often call "hypervigilance" - as a result of the fight or flight reaction, the body goes into a state of hyper-awareness, where you're more observant of your surroundings, and your senses are heightened as you look for potential danger. Some people experience this as an odd uneasiness as if something's wrong. This can be unsettling, but it's a natural bodily response to a perceived "threat."
While most people can recognize some - if not the majority - of these common anxiety symptoms, when the stress response is continually triggered, psychiatric comorbidities get involved, and people experience anxiety sensitivity that makes things a little more confusing. These complications can trigger unusual anxiety symptoms.
Chronic Anxiety and Unusual Anxiety Symptoms
Chronic anxiety is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday situations. It can interfere with daily functioning and can even be debilitating.
When the body is in a constant state of stress like this, the production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol increases. Over time, these hormones can take a toll on the body and lead to more severe and unusual mental, physical, and emotional anxiety symptoms.
Psychiatric Comorbidities and Unusual Anxiety Symptoms
Psychiatric comorbidities, or the presence of more than one mental health disorder, are common among people with an anxiety disorder. Those with an anxiety disorder may also experience depression or bipolar disorder. Psychiatric comorbidities can complicate the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety disorders and lead to more severe and unusual anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety Sensitivity and Unusual Anxiety Symptoms
Chronic anxiety can lead to changes in the brain's structure and function, which can also contribute to other symptoms of anxiety. For example, chronic anxiety may cause changes in the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a vital role in the body's stress response. These changes may result in an increased sensitivity to stress.
Evidence suggests that anxiety sensitivity plays a role in the maintenance and severity of anxiety symptoms, potentially leading to some of the weird anxiety symptoms we're about to explore. Researchers define anxiety sensitivity as "the extent of beliefs that anxiety symptoms...can have harmful consequences." Therefore, if you believe - and become preoccupied with - the idea that anxiety is harming your body, this can form a vicious cycle which may keep your anxiety symptoms going.
Unusual Mental Symptoms of Anxiety: Anxious Thoughts and Cognitive Habits
Those with an anxiety disorder may experience unusual mental symptoms due to chronic anxiety. These can range from anxious thoughts and feelings to cognitive habits perpetuating anxiety. Let's look at some of the unusual mental symptoms of anxiety.
Phantom vibrations - also referred to as "phantom ringing" - involve feeling the sensation of your phone or another electronic device ringing when it hasn't. This can affect anyone, whether they have an anxiety disorder or not. However, this may occur more frequently due to high anxiety levels. For people with anxiety, phantom ringing can cause added worry and stress.
Changes in Appetite
People with anxiety may experience a loss or an increase in appetite. A loss of appetite may be due to a decrease in the production of appetite-stimulating hormones, such as ghrelin, due to chronic stress and anxiety. Additionally, anxious thoughts and feelings may make it difficult for a person to focus on eating or make food less appealing.
On the other hand, some people with anxiety may experience an increase in appetite, particularly for high-fat or high-sugar foods, as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. This may lead to weight gain and can contribute to physical health problems.
Difficulty Making Decisions
Someone with an anxiety disorder may find it challenging to make decisions, even small decisions, such as what to wear or eat. This difficulty may be due to excessive worry about the potential consequences of a decision or an inability to focus on the task at hand due to racing thoughts.
People with anxiety may feel that, during occasions of high emotional stress, they are unable to make a decision and may avoid making decisions altogether. This can lead to problems in daily functioning and prevent the individual from completing necessary tasks.
Unusual Physical Symptoms of Anxiety: How Does Anxiety Affect the Body?
People with anxiety disorders often experience unusual physical symptoms that range from mild to severe and can affect various systems in the body. These physical symptoms can be distressing and can affect a person's life.
Physical numbness/tingling & Tremors
The surge of adrenaline and cortisol that occurs during the stress response can cause physical sensations, including numbness, tingling, and tremors.
An individual may experience these physical symptoms in various parts of the body, such as the hands, feet, face, or limbs. These sensations may be mild or severe and may come and go.
Another unusual anxiety symptom caused by an excess of stress hormones in the body is excessive yawning. This strange symptom may also be a sign of fatigue or a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream, both of which often relate to anxiety disorders.
Symptoms of Anxiety that Affect the Organs
Anxiety can affect various organs in the body and can cause a range of unusual physical anxiety symptoms. Some examples of symptoms of anxiety that affect the organs include:
- Heart irregularities: Anxiety can cause changes in heart rate and blood pressure, leading to heart palpitations, a racing heart, chest pain, and other heart-related symptoms. In some cases, anxiety can also lead to more serious heart problems, such as coronary artery disease or heart attack.
- Indigestion: Anxiety can cause changes in the digestive system, leading to specific symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Anxiety may also exacerbate existing digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Unusual Emotional Symptoms of Anxiety
As anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry and fear about everyday situations, people with anxiety disorders may experience a range of unusual emotional symptoms. The main form of unusual emotional anxiety symptom is dissociation.
Dissociation is a psychological phenomenon in which a person's thoughts, feelings, and sense of identity become separated from their body and surroundings. It is often described as feeling detached or disconnected from oneself or the world around them. The main types of dissociation are depersonalization, derealization, and amnesia.
Treatments for Anxiety
An anxiety disorder, its comorbidities, and its many symptoms may be distressing and unnerving. Fortunately, various treatment methods are available to help ease these anxiety symptoms.
Seek Medical Attention
It's important to seek medical attention for any mental health condition, including anxiety disorders, as these can interfere with your everyday life. A mental health professional can help diagnose the cause of your anxiety symptoms and develop a treatment plan to manage them.
Several types of mental health professionals can help with anxiety disorders, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed therapists.
Breathing techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing, can help to calm the central nervous system and ease anxiety symptoms.
Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep belly breathing or belly breathing, involves taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm rather than shallow breaths from the chest. This type of breathing can help reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, and muscle relaxation when your muscles tense repeatedly.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling, involves talking with a mental health professional about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Several types of psychotherapy can effectively treat anxiety disorders, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and mindfulness-based therapy.
Self-care strategies, such as getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in stress-reducing activities, can also help manage anxiety symptoms and the health conditions associated with anxiety.
One stress-reducing, mindfulness-based strategy you can try at home is the 3-3-3 Rule for Anxiety.
Final Word on Weird Anxiety Symptoms Most People Don't Know About
Anxiety disorders are common and can cause a range of unusual symptoms beyond the typical feelings of worry and fear. These unusual anxiety symptoms can be physical, mental, or emotional and can affect various systems in the body.
Various treatment options are available, including breathing techniques, therapy, and self-care. Whatever you choose, if your symptoms are severe and causing distress, seek out a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.