Anxiety can be very uncomfortable, especially when it’s causing a cascade of mental and physical symptoms. Here’s what it feels like and how you can learn to cope.

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It’s natural for us as humans to feel anxious from time to time. After all, anxiety is no different than any of the other emotions we feel, like joy or sadness.

But there’s something about anxiety that can feel different, especially because it affects both your mind and body. Emotionally, anxiety can leave you feeling on edge and worried, or with racing or panicky thoughts. Physically, you might notice your heart races, your breathing becomes faster, and your palms start to sweat.

Many of these anxiety symptoms can leave us feeling concerned, but how typical are these feelings? Below, we’ll explore some of the things you might feel when you’re anxious, and cover some of the coping skills that can help you manage your anxiety.

We all feel anxiety differently, but most of the time, you probably notice that anxiety feels like worry, unease, or dread.

When you’re anxious, your mind might feel uneasy, like something is wrong or something dangerous might happen. It’s common to feel like you can’t sit still, perhaps because your thoughts are racing out of your control.

You might even notice that your body is also responding, and that there are changes in your heart rate and breathing, for example.

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety can affect us both mentally and physically, which means that we don’t just feel it in our minds – we feel it in our bodies, too.

Mental symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • feeling worried or nervous
  • feeling on-edge or irritable
  • feeling like you’re in danger
  • having racing, intrusive thoughts
  • experiencing changes in perception
  • experiencing depersonalization or derealization

Physical symptoms of anxiety may include:

  • racing heart or chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating, hot flashes, or cold flashes
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • muscle or body aches and pains
  • upset stomach, nausea, or diarrhea
  • changes in sleeping or eating

Anxiety is the emotional response to things that we perceive as stressful or dangerous. When we feel anxious, it triggers our stress response. Also known as our fight, flight, or freeze response.

As our bodies kick into gear to prepare us for the “threat”, they release a cascade of hormones, such as adrenaline.

Adrenaline and other hormones released during the stress response activate our nervous system. We feel many of the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety because of the effects that these hormones can have on the body.

When to seek help

It’s natural to feel anxiety every now and then, such as before giving a presentation or going out on a first date. But for some people, especially those with anxiety disorders, anxiety is more frequent and can interfere with someone’s ability to live their life.

One of the common features of many anxiety disorders is frequent and persistent anxiety. Occasionally, this anxiety can lead to anxiety or panic attacks. Here’s what anxiety and panic attacks may feel like:

  • Anxiety attack: Usually builds up gradually and feels like a general increase in anxiety. If you’re having an anxiety attack, you might feel on edge or irritable, and have trouble with activities like eating or sleeping.
  • Panic attack: Comes on more quickly and feels like a sudden, intense feeling of panic. When you’re experiencing a panic attack, it can cause symptoms like a racing heart, trouble breathing, and even feeling detached from yourself or the world.

If you’ve been experiencing anxiety that makes it hard to function, including frequent anxiety or panic attacks, consider reaching out to your doctor or a mental health professional to discuss your concerns. You can also find more helpful resources on anxiety at our anxiety hub.

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Despite how uncomfortable anxiety might feel, it’s our bodies’ way of preparing us for potential stress or danger.

Whenever you notice that your stress and anxiety is rising, here are a few coping skills you can consider trying to help relax your mind and body.

1. Recognize your triggers

Many people have specific things that make them anxious, such as increased stress or big life changes, for example.

Once you’re aware of what’s causing your anxiety, you can either learn to better manage these triggers or limit how frequently you encounter them.

2. Practice being mindful

Mindfulness refers to the state of being in the present moment, and research has shown that it’s effective at helping reduce anxiety.

Meditation and yoga are two examples of mindful activities, but even taking a moment to stop and be present may help reduce anxiety.

3. Engage with your body

According to 2018 research, exercise is an effective way to reduce anxiety. Engaging with your body is a great way to ground yourself because it can pull your focus away from your anxiety and onto something else.

Exercises like walking and activities like progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can help engage your body and relax your mind.

4. Practice accepting emotions

It’s not uncommon for people to fear their anxiety, or even want to get rid of it, but anxiety is a natural emotion that we all feel.

Rather than trying to get rid of this emotion completely, it can be helpful to practice accepting it for what it is – just a passing emotion.

5. Seek outside support

Sometimes it can be difficult to cope with emotions like anxiety alone, especially when you’re living with an anxiety disorder.

If you notice that you feel better when you share how you’re feeling, consider speaking to a friend or reaching out to a therapist for support.

Anxiety is just one of the many human emotions that we feel, and it’s one that can affect both our mental and physical health. And while it’s typical for people to feel anxious or panicky from time to time, it can be a very uncomfortable emotion to experience.

If you’ve noticed that your anxiety is having a significant impact on your life, consider reaching out to a professional for help. With the guidance of a trained mental health professional, you can get the treatment you need to manage your anxiety and live your life.