Can anxiety make you feel sick? Most people experience the emotional waves of anxiety, but did you know many anxiety symptoms can manifest in the physical body? When your mind is in turmoil over something that could happen or hasn’t happened yet, it’s natural for your body to feel it too — meaning anxiety can make you feel physically sick. This is particularly true for people who suppress their feelings or don’t have a healthy emotional outlet, which sets off warning alarms in your nervous system, leading to physical symptoms. This is your body desperately trying to tell you that something is wrong. Studies support that chronic anxiety may even be related to chronic illness later in life. While you shouldn’t worry about every ache or pain that comes up, it’s important to have an awareness of the physical symptoms of anxiety — especially if clusters of symptoms begin to show up together.
Why anxiety manifests in the body
Physical symptoms of anxiety are brought on by the autonomic nervous system, also known as your ‘fight or flight’ response designed to protect you from danger. The autonomic system regulates ‘‘automatic’ processes like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, digestion, and sexual arousal. When these processes are altered under stress, the body experiences physical symptoms of illness. Read on to find out what ‘anxiety sick’ feels like.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
Feeling dizzy or faint
Anxious people often feel dizzy and faint, particularly when engaging in faster movements like standing up quickly. Dizziness gets more extreme when anxiety causes nausea and lost appetite. It’s important to remember to eat during anxious periods as the body can sometimes miss these cues, making fainting more possible. Although fainting is rarely dangerous, it can be frightening and take time to get used to. No one likes fainting, and it can be avoided by taking certain precautions while your body is under stress.
Your body’s reaction time and choices are altered when experiencing anxiety. You can manage this by doing things slower and more deliberately.
Take deep breaths
Breathing deeply anchors your body to the present moment, and helps you feel more in control. In a physiological sense, deep breaths send more oxygen into your bloodstream and brain, helping you think clearer. Avoid shallow breaths from your chest. Instead, slowly breathe in and out from your diaphragm (the bottom part of your lungs).
Headaches and migraines
Headaches are another way anxiety can make you feel sick. Anxiety can cause any or all of the following headache types: tension headaches, cluster headaches, sinus headaches and stress-induced headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of chronic headache (spanning at least 15 days per month over three months). They typically occur on both sides of your head at the same time. They’re described as a dull ache or pressure in your head and may also include symptoms like neck pain or a stiffness.
Cluster headaches are rare but intensely painful attacks that affect one side of your face, usually around one eye. They come on every day for up to two weeks straight before disappearing entirely for several months at a time. They’re often described as extremely intense stabbing pains combined with tearing eyes and shortness of breath.
Sinus headaches generally come with clear signs such as stuffiness in your nose, forehead pain or facial tenderness around your sinuses; typically spread throughout both sides of your face simultaneously rather than focused in just one area.
Aches and pains
Anxiety can cause muscle tension and pain, which in turn creates soreness and achiness. When you’re feeling anxious, your body releases stress hormones into your bloodstream. These hormones help prepare you for the fight or flight response by increasing blood flow to muscles throughout the body, so they’re ready for action. They also make breathing more rapid, which helps regulate heart rhythm. Back in prehistoric days, this made sense as a response to something dangerous (like being chased by an animal). But when you feel stressed all the time in today’s world—whether that’s due to anxiety issues or external factors like work deadlines, this will lead to aches and pains over time.
Heart palpitations, chest pain, and shortness of breath
Many people get concerned and wonder, does anxiety cause chest pain? The answer is yes. The pain often feels like a sudden hit or catch that interrupts the breath. Though it feels alarming, anxiety chest pain typically lasts about 10 minutes. It often comes on along with heart palpitations, which means you can clearly feel your heartbeat in your chest. This is normal after exercise or a thrilling activity like a rollercoaster. But if you begin to feel heart palpitations in a resting state, that could be a sign of anxiety. Heart palpitations can feel like pounding, racing, or skipping. Heart palpitations often mean your body is pushing more blood to the heart, gearing you up to deal with danger. You can calm this response by telling your brain and body that you’re safe through grounding exercises.
Examples of grounding exercises include:
- Deep breathing.
- Any form of movement like exercise, dancing, or going for a walk.
- Running your hands and wrists under cold water.
- Tap into smell and taste by savouring a snack or meal.
- Listen to your surroundings, paying attention to what you can hear.
Listen to your body
Physical symptoms of anxiety should not be ignored. Oftentimes this is your body’s way of telling you that something needs to change — whether that’s your lifestyle, your work circumstances, relationships, or other stressors.
Wellin5’s certified online counsellors are here to help you stop feeling sick from anxiety. The online format ensures you can always talk to a professional in an environment you’re comfortable with. Get started with online therapists who are highly specialized in anxiety counselling.