What comes to mind when you think about anxiety? Racing thoughts? Panic attacks? Pervasive feelings of dread and uncertainty?
Those are some hallmark anxiety symptoms, but they don’t always capture the full story. Many people with anxiety also experience subtle signs of distress without recognizing their actual impact.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America. They impact 40 million adults, or about 20% of the population.
Some of the most typical anxiety symptoms include:
Most people with anxiety experience some or all of the common symptoms. But it’s important to remember that anxiety exists on a large spectrum. You may dismiss certain psychological or physical symptoms without realizing they are signs of anxiety affecting your mental health.
Here are some lesser-known symptoms to consider.
Dissociation refers to a feeling of detachment, and a moment of dissociation can feel like you’re outside of yourself. There’s a disconnect between who you are and how you physically feel. Some people describe it as “losing touch” or “getting lost” with reality.
Other symptoms of dissociation include:
Some experts theorize that dissociation is a defense mechanism. The brain attempts to block out painful experiences by shutting the body down.
Some people with anxiety experience dissociation during particularly overwhelming moments. While it may provide initial relief, it can strain the central nervous system and trigger persistent memory blocking and depersonalization patterns.
Are your hands and feet always cold? Or, conversely, do you experience hot flashes? These discomforts may have more to do with your mental health than you realize.
Research shows that anxiety impacts blood circulation and heart rate. Stress activates the fight-flight-or-freeze response, and narrowing blood vessels affect body temperature.
We typically yawn when we’re tired. We also yawn when others do as a form of empathic social mirroring. But chronic yawning may also indicate anxiety.
Anxiety directly impacts the respiratory system and heart. So, when you feel overwhelmed, you may breathe faster than normal, causing your brain to assume you are not receiving enough air. This process can trigger more yawning.
People often attempt to cope with their anxiety by distracting themselves from it. Instead of tuning into their thoughts or feelings, they push them aside by working, watching TV, or scrolling online.
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally distracting yourself from your feelings. In some cases, doing so can be a form of self-care and help you recharge. But if you feel like you can never sit still or just be, you may exacerbate your mental health problems.
Indecisiveness can go hand-in-hand with anxiety. Because anxiety is rooted in the future, there is a potent fear of something bad happening. This worry can lead to catastrophic thinking because you assume the worst-case scenario will come true.
As a result, you may struggle with making even the smallest decisions. You might find yourself seeking continuous reassurance from others. Or you may procrastinate because you just can’t commit to making a choice.
Unfortunately, indecisiveness often triggers more anxiety. People often feel stressed when they can’t make a choice, resulting in more irritation, hesitation, and feelings of failure.
Instead of reacting indecisively to stress, some people act impulsively to it.
Outweighing the pros and cons can seem daunting, so they just jump to the first conclusion. They sometimes choose the “easy way out” to avoid the mental energy needed to plan and prepare.
Like indecisiveness, impulsivity often perpetuates more anxiety. Patterns of impulsivity often make people feel desperate, insecure, or even ashamed. They also might be more likely to engage in reckless behavior, such as substance use, disordered eating, or compulsive shopping.
People often think of fatigue as a symptom of depression. But it can also reveal underlying anxiety.
Think about how you typically process a stressful event. You may obsess and ruminate and panic over and over again. Sometimes you can’t stop replaying scenarios or imagining what will happen next. And then, inevitably, you crash.
This cycle is biological. The brain releases stress hormones in response to a perceived threat. And while this surge of hormones can provide a needed energy boost, that energy eventually expires. When that happens, you may feel physically and emotionally exhausted.
You know about the perils of procrastination, but precrasination can be just as problematic.
Precrastination refers to finishing tasks as quickly as possible for the mere sake of getting them done. At first, this tendency may seem productive and beneficial. In fact, our society often praises people for working fast and getting things done early.
But procrastination can be a reaction to hypervigilance. You may not care as much about the quality of the work — you just want to get it done. So while checking off to-do items quickly feels good, you might overlook the importance of critical thinking, which can lead to neglecting creativity and causing careless mistakes.
Some people with anxiety also fear confrontation and struggle with people-pleasing tendencies. They value the needs of others before their own. Subsequently, they frequently worry about how their decisions or presence impacts others.
Do you automatically apologize at the sign of distress? Do you say sorry even if you don’t really believe you’ve done something wrong? If so, this could be a sign of anxiety. You might feel so concerned about offending someone that you try to “clear the air” before fully digesting the situation.
Are you hiccuping more than usual? You might be more anxious than you realize.
Hiccuping occurs when your diaphragm, the muscle between your stomach and lungs, becomes irritated. Hiccups are involuntary spasms that typically pass within a few moments.
Stress can cause hiccups. When you feel afraid, you breathe quicker and take in more air. This can disrupt the diaphragm, triggering hiccups.
Anxiety rarely occurs within a vacuum. Most people experience a combination of physical and emotional symptoms when they feel overwhelmed.
While you cannot entirely eliminate stress from your life, you can take proactive steps to manage it. Self-care, relaxation, and positive thinking all help reduce anxiety.
However, you should consider seeking professional help if your anxiety:
While there is no specific cure for anxiety, the right treatment can help you treat and manage your symptoms. A therapist provides support and teaches you healthier coping strategies to improve how you feel.
CBT is one of the most well-known and researched anxiety treatments. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns and increasing positive coping responses.
Exposure therapy is useful in treating specific phobias. This treatment entails gradually “exposing” yourself to the anxiety-inducing situation using in-vivo or imaginal exposure techniques.
IPT focuses on improving interpersonal skills and relationship satisfaction. Focusing on these goals often helps people experience fewer anxiety symptoms.
ACT helps people clarify their values and encourages living in ways that feel meaningful and authentic. ACT blends concepts of mindfulness and behavioral strategies.
Experiential therapies include art, psychodrama, dance, and other creative or movement-based interventions. Depending on the individual’s needs, these can supplement talk therapy or act as standalone treatments.
Anxiety symptoms may feel overwhelming and frustrating, but learning to cope with them is possible. With time, effort, and support, you can feel more empowered about your mental health.