One of the worst things that happen to you when you are anxious, is the physical symptoms that anxiety produce. Those symptoms cause you to go in to the vicious loop of panic, which in turn affects your life and limits your activities. The main problem those physical symptoms caused me, is that they kept on reminding me of anxiety, they kept reminding me that I am not safe, that it is not all in my head, that I am going insane.
Understanding why anxiety causes those physical symptoms has helped me a lot in dealing with them. As G.I Joe always says “Knowing is half the battle”. Knowing why those things happen will help you to not interpret them as a threat, and you’ll avoid the vicious loop.
Anxiety Physical Symptoms
When you are anxious, having an anxiety attack, or having an intense panic attack, you might feel those common sensations:
- Increase in heart rate.
- Fast breathing, or hyperventilation.
- Chest pain.
- Tightness in the throat. Choking feeling.
- Hot and cold Flashes.
- Numbness or tingling sensations.
- Stomach knots.
- Sudden need to urinate.
- Tension in the legs.
Those are the common symptoms that you might feel when you are anxious. However, those are not the only symptoms. For example, I have once felt as if there is something that exploded in my head, and the pain was too strong. I know it was anxiety now, after I had the necessary tests. So if you feel any other sensations, console your doctor, and he will make sure it is nothing but anxiety trying to trick you.
Since anxiety is just a feeling, why are the physical symptoms too strong? How come I feel real chest pain? Why do my hands feel numb? Well, it is your body survival mechanism.
We will discuss what actually happens when you are anxious, and understand why those physical symptoms happen.
I. Your brain senses danger
The first thing that causes you to be anxious is your brain. Your brain is built in order to help you survive, so whenever it senses danger, it goes into fight-or-flight response. This response represents two choices that you can choose from when facing a terrifying situation, whether it was mental or physical. Our brain has learnt those two choices a long time ago, long since our ancestors had to live in the wild, with danger surrounding them from every angle.
The fight-or-flight response was first defined by Walter Cannon. He described the response as a rapid chain of reactions inside your body to protect and mobilize the body’s resources in order to deal with the threat that has come your way.
II. The Fight-or-Flight induced reactions
Now that your brain has swiped the Fight-or-Flight mode on. Your body will react accordingly. First, your brain wants to protect the three most important organs in your body. Your heart, your lungs, and the brain itself. I guess our brains are narcissistic. So it begins to shut off all other organs, your heart starts bumping blood faster and your lungs start to breathe faster, to supply your body with the necessary oxygen. Your muscles become tense, and you might start shaking. Also, you might have a sudden need to urinate, this is your body’s way in order to get rid of unnecessary weight.
Those reaction will cause the following symptoms:
- Increase heart rate, because it needs to bump blood faster to your body.
- Fast breathing (Hyperventilation), so that you’ll have sufficient oxygen for your body.
- Chest pain, caused by tensed muscles.
- Numbness and tingling sensations, since your brain has decided to focus on the most important organs for the time being.
- Dizziness, since your heart is bumping faster, your blood pressure is increased as well, which will cause you to feel dizzy. You will not faint though.
- Other symptoms. Again, your brain now is focusing on the most important organs, other organs will start to feel weird.
The fight-or-flight response causes all the physical symptoms in order to keep you safe. It will not cause you any harm.
III. Danger is resolved
Now that you are safe, you will start to feel those physical symptoms to fade away. It will take some time to get back to your Rest-and-Digest mode. You will start feeling your breathing return to normal, your heart rate will decrease, you will stop feeling those tingling sensations or dizzy. Your other organs will start to function properly again.
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