You know your tell-tale symptoms of anxiety if you’ve ever had an anxiety attack or panic attack. But one of the worst things about the symptoms is that you never know if you should treat them as a real medical emergency or just a side effect of your anxiety. Unfortunately, it is true that there are numerous medical conditions that can cause sensations and symptoms which mimic anxiety.
So what can you do?
The best thing to do is remember that your anxiety can distort your thinking and judgement, and the fact that your brain is not calibrated to deal with such sensations rationally at this time. When your anxiety attack has passed or reduced in severity, it is recommended to see a doctor, because they will be able to tell anxiety symptoms from actual medical condition symptoms. This is and of itself is reassuring to many people. “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” – Haruki Murakami.
The following are but a few of the many troubling symptoms of anxiety:
1. Chest Pain or Discomfort
shooting pains, twitching or burning muscles, numbness, a fullness in the chest area that can be mistaken for heart problems or heart attack symptoms, causing more anxiety.
2. Shortness of Breath
Difficulty getting a full breath, a feeling that breathing is forced and too much work. Becoming overly aware of each breath, as if your breathing is “on manual”, rather than automatic, along with the fear that if you don’t keep consciously taking each breath, you will stop breathing and die. Can be mistaken as asthma symptoms, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Shortness of breath symptoms are usually due to hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is when your body is getting too much oxygen and is pushing out too much carbon dioxide. This can make you feel like you’re not breathing enough.
3. Heart Palpitations
Feelings that your heart is pounding or racing. Can be felt in your chest, throat, or neck. Anxiety elevates the body’s level of cortisol and adrenaline. These in turn can interfere with the normal functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system and result in overstimulation of the vagus nerve.
Vagus nerve-induced palpitations are felt as a thud, a hollow fluttery sensation, or a skipped beat, depending on at what point during the heart’s normal rhythm the vagus nerve fires. The anxiety of feeling palpitations can cause you further anxiety and increased vagus nerve stimulation. Can be mistaken for tachycardia or heart attack symptoms.
4. Weak Legs
Feeling like your legs are jelly-like, or rubbery, weak and shaky and won’t hold you up when you walk. Or your legs and knees can feel too stiff to move. You can also feel this in your arms as well. This is a common anxiety stress response. We’ve all heard the expression “going weak in the knees” referring to sudden shock or fear.
Often anxious people mistake this response for some serious disease, like Muscular Sclerosis, Muscular dystrophy, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or a stroke. Weak legs from stress are not caused by a serious disease and is not a cause for alarm.
A feeling of tightness in the throat, or sensations as if there is something stuck in your throat or a feeling you have a lump in your throat. Also gasping, gagging, or having to swallow hard for no reason. Can be mistaken for going into anaphylactic shock, especially if the person has allergies. A common stress reaction.
6. Seeing spots
Spots in the periphery or centre of vision. Can be either with eyes closed or open. Also flashing lights, or ryes sensitive to light. A response to stress. Can be mistaken for visual migraines. Scientists know that the adrenaline surge that happens with the activation of the fight or flight stress response seems to change some people’s vision. The changes take the form of tunnel vision, where the eyes focus on whatever is directly in front of you and the rest of the visual field is blurred out. Coupled with this tunnel vision is a heightened sensitivity to light through the dilation of the pupils.
Anxiety also tends to produce sensory hyper-awareness, so it is possible that you feel like you’re experiencing some kind of physiological problem even though these spots are natural, and no cause for worry.
7. Ringing in the ears
Worried that you’ve suddenly developed tinnitus? Could just be an anxiety symptom. This can be the classic high-pitched ringing, or low rumbling, chirping, swooshing, sloshing, buzzing, whooshing, humming or throbbing sound.
The actual cause of tinnitus is still unclear to science, but there has been a link established between anxiety and stress and ringing ears. One theory is that anxiety causes a type of “hypersensitivity,” where you become extremely aware of every single pain, feeling, or sensation in your body. It is possible that some people have a very mild, virtually imperceptible tinnitus, and their anxiety makes them overly sensitive to it, plus their anxiety keeps them from ignoring it.
Sudden uncontrolled sweating, hot or cold sweats for no reason, and hot flashes. A stress response is often associated with anxiety and panic attacks. Can be misdiagnosed as menopausal hot flashes, Diabetes mellitus, Diabetic neuropathy, shingles, Orthostatic hypotension, and Fibromyalgia.
9. Brain Fog
This is difficulty concentrating, thinking and forming thoughts. Thinking can feel like it is muddled or impaired. Some people call this symptom being “foggy-headed”, “spaced out” or “clued out” . This stress response can be mistaken for low blood sugar, food allergies, seasonal allergies, dehydration, or depression. Anxiety sufferers may have panic thoughts that they have Lyme disease, mercury poisoning, fibromyalgia, or dementia.
In fact, brain fog is more often your mind’s way of telling you to relax, and is brought on by prolonged stress, burnout, and feeling overwhelmed.
Part of your skin or body feels numb, tingly or frozen with anaesthesia. There also can be a feeling of pins and needles or burning skin sensations.
During an anxiety response, you can hyperventilate, and this can cause parts of your body to feel numb. And when you hyperventilate your body constricts blood vessels, preventing blood flow to various areas of your body, leading to the numbness. Tyr breathing slower and more steadily if this happens and see if the numbness goes away.
A Normal Reaction
Anxiety is actually a normal reaction to danger. Everybody feels anxiety to some degree and frequency. Anxiety is a body-mind response to the awareness of potential danger, or to thinking fearfully about the perceived danger. It only becomes a “disorder” when it interferes with your normal functioning. There is no quick cure for anxiety. You will need to figure out the type of underlying anxiety issues you have, and treat the anxiety directly. As soon as your anxiety issues are resolved, your physical symptoms should finally go away.