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Understanding the mental and physical signs of anxiety

rh counselling service ltd Jul 11, 2023
What is anxiety

Understanding your anxiety: Insights from a Psychotherapist

As a psychotherapist, I have had the privilege of working with numerous individuals struggling with anxiety. While your mind is undoubtedly an important battleground for anxiety, it is important not to overlook the subtle but powerful messages that our bodies convey. In this blog, I will shed light on how anxiety manifests in the mind and body and explore effective strategies to help you address these symptoms.

Anxiety is a normal and natural response to stress or apprehension about a future event or outcome. It is often characterised by feelings of worry, fear, and unease. While it is normal to experience anxiety from time to time, it becomes problematic when it starts to interfere with daily life and functioning.


It's important to understand that anxiety is not a character flaw or a sign of weakness. It is a legitimate mental health concern that affects millions of people worldwide. Fortunately, there are effective strategies and treatments available to manage and alleviate anxiety.

*Safety note* If you believe you are experiencing high levels of anxiety and feel at a crisis point, it is recommended to consult with a mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and guide you toward appropriate treatment options. Remember, you are not alone, and there is always help available. The Charity Mind, provides relevant contact details and telephone numbers to call if you require immediate help here: Mind

Anxiety can manifest in various forms, including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and specific phobias. Each type of anxiety disorder has its own set of symptoms and triggers, but they all share a common thread of excessive and persistent worry or fear. So, without further ado, let's dive in and first explore the mental symptoms of anxiety together!

  1. Excessive Worry:

One of the primary mental symptoms of anxiety is excessive worrying. You may find yourself constantly thinking about potential worst-case scenarios, even when there's no immediate threat. This excessive worry can be overwhelming and persistent, making it difficult to focus on everyday tasks.

  1. Racing Thoughts:

When anxiety takes hold, your mind can feel like a whirlwind of racing thoughts. These thoughts may jump from one worry to another, making it hard to concentrate or quiet your mind. It's like having a never-ending loop of thoughts that spiral out of control.

  1. Irrational Fears:

Anxiety can also manifest as irrational fears or phobias. You might find yourself feeling intensely afraid of things that others perceive as harmless, such as flying, public speaking, or even leaving your home. These fears can significantly impact your daily life, causing avoidance behaviors and distress.

  1. Trouble Sleeping:

Many individuals with anxiety struggle with sleep problems. Falling asleep might be challenging, and even if you do manage to drift off, you may wake up frequently throughout the night. Anxiety can cause a constant state of alertness, making it difficult to relax and unwind.

  1. Restlessness and Irritability:

Feeling on edge or restless is another common mental symptom of anxiety. You may find yourself unable to sit still or constantly fidgeting. Additionally, anxiety can make you feel easily irritated or on edge, even in seemingly calm situations. These restless feelings can be exhausting both mentally and physically.

  1. Difficulty Concentrating:

Due to the racing thoughts and constant worry, anxiety can make it hard to concentrate. You might struggle to focus on tasks at hand, leading to decreased productivity and feelings of frustration. This difficulty in concentrating and staying mentally present can impact various aspects of your life, including work, school, or personal relationships.

  1. Feeling Overwhelmed:

Anxiety can create a sense of overwhelming emotions. You may feel like your mind is in overdrive, constantly preoccupied with worries and negative thoughts. This feeling of being overwhelmed can lead to physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, and even panic attacks.

Remember, everyone experiences anxiety differently, and these mental symptoms may vary in intensity and duration. If you resonate with these symptoms and feel like anxiety is impacting your well-being, seeking support from a mental health professional can be beneficial. They can help you navigate through the challenges, provide coping strategies, and offer appropriate treatments.


How Anxiety Manifests in Your Body:

It's important to recognize that anxiety is not just a mental experience; it can also have physical manifestations. It is therefore also helpful to understand how anxiety can manifest in your body. When we feel anxious, our body goes into a "fight-or-flight" mode, triggering a range of physiological reactions. Let's explore these together so that you can better understand how anxiety affects you personally.

  1. Increased Heart Rate:

Have you ever noticed your heart racing when you're feeling anxious? That's because anxiety triggers the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, which temporarily accelerates your heart rate. This physiological response is your body's way of preparing for a perceived threat.

  1. Muscle Tension:

Another common physical symptom of anxiety is muscle tension. It's as if your body is primed for action, even though there might not be a physical danger present. You might find yourself clenching your jaw, tightening your neck and shoulders, or even experiencing muscle aches and pains due to prolonged tension.

  1. Rapid Breathing:

Anxiety often leads to shallow, rapid breathing or hyperventilation. This happens because your body is trying to take in more oxygen to prepare for the fight-or-flight response. Unfortunately, this can trigger dizziness, shortness of breath, or even a sensation of suffocation, which can further exacerbate feelings of anxiety.

  1. Upset Stomach:

It's not uncommon for anxiety to affect your digestive system. You may experience symptoms like stomachaches, nausea, or even diarrhea. This happens because when you're feeling anxious, your body diverts blood from your digestive organs to your muscles in preparation for the perceived threat. This can disrupt normal digestion and lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.

  1. Trouble Sleeping:

Anxiety can interfere with your sleep patterns. You might have difficulty falling asleep, experience restless nights, or have vivid nightmares. Racing thoughts and worries can keep your mind busy, making it challenging to relax and drift off into a restful sleep.

  1. Headaches:

Headaches and migraines can also be physical symptoms of anxiety. When you're feeling stressed or anxious, your body can tense up, including the muscles in your scalp and neck. This muscle tension can lead to persistent headaches or migraines.

  1. Weakened Immune System:

Prolonged anxiety can weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses like the common cold or flu. Stress hormones released during anxiety can suppress immune function, impairing your body's ability to fight off infections.

It's important to remember that everyone's experience with anxiety is unique, and these physical symptoms can vary from person to person. By recognizing these manifestations and understanding that they are a normal response to anxiety, you can begin to develop coping strategies to manage and alleviate them.

Next time you experience anxiety, take a moment to check in with your body. Are you noticing any of these physical symptoms? Remember, there's no need to panic - it's just your body's way of reacting to stress. Take deep breaths, practice relaxation techniques, engage in physical activity, or seek support from a mental health professional to find effective ways to manage your anxiety and promote overall well-being.

Understanding the mind-body connection is paramount in addressing anxiety symptoms effectively. Regularly checking in with yourself to acknowledge, validate, and accept any bodily sensations associated with anxiety allows you to cultivate a deeper awareness. By developing a keen sense of your body's response to stress, you can implement appropriate coping strategies, seek support from loved ones, or consult with a mental health professional when necessary.


Understanding the mental symptoms of anxiety is the first step towards managing and overcoming it. By recognizing excessive worry, racing thoughts, irrational fears, sleep difficulties, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and feeling overwhelmed, you can start taking steps towards seeking help and finding effective coping strategies. Anxiety often hides in plain sight, whispering its presence through various bodily symptoms. By tuning in to these cues, we unlock a valuable source of information that guides us towards effective anxiety management. Embracing a holistic approach that encompasses both mind and body will empower you to respond to anxiety with resilience, compassion, and understanding. Remember, with the right support, anxiety can be managed, allowing you to lead a fulfilling and well-balanced life.

Stragies to help with anxiety:

Remember, it's important to experiment and find what works best for you, as everyone's experience with anxiety is unique. Let's explore some strategies:

  1. Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques:

    - Take slow, deep breaths. Deep breathing activates your body's relaxation response by slowing down         your heart rate and reducing muscle tension. 

    - Try progressive muscle relaxation: systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in your               body. This technique helps promote overall relaxation.

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation:

    - Practice mindfulness meditation to cultivate present-moment awareness without judgment. This can          help you detach from anxious thoughts and foster a sense of calm.

    - Experiment with guided meditation apps or classes specifically designed for anxiety relief.

  1. Therapy:

    - Consider seeking therapy from a licensed mental health professional.

    - Therapy helps to focus on the core of why your anxiety has manifested, helps to identify and                      challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and shows you how to develop coping          strategies to alleviate symptoms.

  1. Regular Exercise and Healthy Lifestyle:

    - Engage in regular physical activity, such as walking, running, or yoga, as it can help reduce stress              and improve your overall mood.

    - Prioritise sleep hygiene. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, create a relaxing bedtime routine, and        ensure you have a comfortable sleep environment.

  1. Social Support and Connection:

    - Reach out to friends, family, or support groups who understand your experience with anxiety. Sharing        your feelings with trusted individuals provides comfort and sometimes helpful perspectives.

    - Consider joining local or online support groups to connect with others who may have similar struggles.

  1. Limiting Stressors:

    - Identify and address situations or triggers that contribute to your anxiety. This may involve setting              boundaries, prioritising self-care, or seeking professional help in finding healthy coping strategies.

Remember, these strategies may not provide instant relief, but with consistent practice and patience, you can develop a toolbox of techniques that work best for you. It's important to acknowledge that seeking professional guidance from a therapist or counsellor can significantly aid your journey towards alleviating mental symptoms of anxiety.

Rebecca Hay

The Break free Therapist