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Anxiety Can Cause Physical Symptoms

In my medical practice, I often have patients wondering if they have anxiety.  I also have many patients that come with a variety of symptoms, whom are surprised to find that the cause of these symptoms are sometimes signs of anxiety.  Anxiety is a normal human phenomenon that everybody experiences, but some people experience anxiety more extremely to the point that it impairs their day-to-day life.

Everyone experiences anxiety!

Anxiety is a normal human phenomenon that everybody experiences.  Although different people have different signs of anxiety, and experience anxiety in different ways.  And everybody has different levels of awareness of their anxiety. 

What is important before considering any anxiety disorder as a diagnosis of cause of your symptoms, is to rule out any potential medical causes that could mimic symptoms of anxiety.  Physical signs of anxiety can overlap with conditions that affect the heart, lungs, abdomen, and nervous system.  So it is important to check with your health care provider before confirming that your symptoms are, in fact, anxiety related. 

Signs of anxiety can be mental or physical

The signs of anxiety are often experienced differently from person to person. Some people experience more cognitive symptoms – such as worries, ruminations, and intense thoughts.  Some people experience more physical symptoms of anxiety – such as headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath.

Regardless of where you are on the anxiety spectrum, the first step is to pay attention, and notice (without judgement).

What are some common physical signs of anxiety?

Anxiety is an unpleasant vague feeling of apprehension and un-easiness.  With this, physical symptoms are often also present.  Common physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Headaches and muscle tension
  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Sweating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Tightness of chest, shortness of breath, feeling like it’s difficult to breathe
  • Stomach discomfort, diarrhea, constipation
  • Restlessness, inability to sit or stand for long, fidgetines

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please see your health care provider to rule out other medical causes for these symptoms.

If you are trying to understand what are your signs of anxiety, ask yourself if you have these experiences:

Do you ever have:

  1. Worries, or Anticipation of the worst
  2. Feeling overly Irritable
  3. Being Easily fatigued
  4. An exaggerated startle response, or feeling fearful
  5. Feeling like you are trembling or shaking, feeling restless, or having difficulty relaxing
  6. Difficulty concentrating
  7. Difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep, poor quality sleep, or having nightmares
  8. Aches and pains, headaches, feeling tense, or feeling weak
  9. Heart palpitations or feeling like your heart is skipping a beat, or feeling tight in the chest
  10. Feelings of being faint, feeling like your choking, feeling short of breath
  11. Nausea, or frequent bouts of constipation or diarrhea
  12. Pacing or feeling like you can’t sit still

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please see your health care provider to rule out other medical causes for these symptoms.

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP and Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.


  1. Sadock, B. J., Sadock, V. A., & Ruiz, P. (2015). Kaplan & Sadock’s synopsis of psychiatry: Behavioral sciences/clinical psychiatry (Eleventh edition.)

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