Although anxiety disorders are labelled as “mental illnesses,” their symptoms can often emerge physically in ways that take a toll on our bodies. For those who don’t live with anxiety, this might be difficult to understand for many reasons — one of them being those struggling with anxiety have found little ways to manage and cope with their “anxiety pain.”
To spread awareness about how this may manifest, we asked our Mightymental health community to share with us some things people don’t realize they’re doing because anxiety is causing them physical pain.
Here is what they had to say:
1. “I tend to look mean or annoyed, which is bad because I work in customer service. I can’t explain to everyone who walks in that every muscle hurts because my brain is misfiring.” — Meredith H.
2. “I start slowing down and breathing heavier because of my chest pain. Sometimes I even have to stop moving because it just becomes so bad. Sometimes I think I am having a heart attack.” — Rianna J.
3. “I sleep. It’s like I physically can’t take the pain. If the anxiety is intense, I want to go back to old self-harm behaviors. So I sleep to deal with the pain and I worry people will think that I am lazy when in reality, it’s survival.” — Allison I.
4. “Looking down. Not being able to look at someone in the face or in the eyes. Mostly staring at the floor or some other object. And often staring intently at an object, trying to force focus onto something while avoiding everyone and everything else.” — Christa O.
5. “I tend to clench my jaw during really stressful, anxious times. I can feel the effects of it days after, even if the anxiety has subsided. It makes my entire face hurt and feel fatigued.” — Whitney F.
6. “When I rub my arms or legs, or rub my fingers across my face a lot, it’s because I’m actually physically numb from anxiety and I’m checking to see if I’m still there. It’s a weird feeling and very scary.” — Sarah C.
7. “I sigh very heavily because it feels like I can’t breathe properly and take in the air I need. It always makes people ask if everything is OK because it sounds like an exasperation or frustration or sadness. Granted, my mind is never OK, but the sigh is a comfort thing. It makes me think that maybe by doing so, I’ll actually be able to get that breath of fresh air.” — Joshua P.
8. “My knees or wrists tense up and when I realize it, it hurts to move them. My hands and legs shake most the time. My eyes go blurry. Restless legs at times. My heart literally hurts and feels like it’s breaking (makes me think I’m having a heart attack, when I really have no clue how one would actually feel).” — Amy R.
9. “Leaving whatever venue we’re at fast. I can’t breathe.” — Lena L.
10. “I have a really bad tremor; it gets worse depending on the meds I’m taking, but I have to take breaks during long classes in order to ensure the tremor doesn’t get out of hand and cause distractions to myself or other students in the class.” — Sam R.
11. “I start to stroke my eyebrows when my anxiety gets too much to handle. I used to pull them out, but I’ve been fighting it. When the anxiety starts to build up though, that bad habit comes out. I can’t just let my hands do nothing or else they go right to my brows, but that means sometimes I’ll just rub my hands or wrists to keep from pulling and next thing I know, I’ve rubbed my skin off.” — Jordan B.
12. “When I have panic attacks, my throat closes up. Once it’s over, my throat is so sore and it takes all day to really open back up again. I’ll spend the rest of the day massaging my throat because of it.” — Heather D.
13. “Cracking my back and fingers. I carry so much tension in both when I’m anxious, so I will constantly crack the areas that hurt to relieve the pain. Or I’ll get massages and people think I’m just spoiling myself with.” — Kacey K.
14. “I can’t eat anything when my anxiety is raging a war inside me. If I’m having anxiety issues (which is frequently), I may go all day without eating until dinner where I only eat a little.” — Ashtyn C.
15. “In high stress moments that trigger it, I get very disoriented, everything looks foreign yet familiar. I get light-headed and have to find a way to reorient myself while maintaining my autopilot functions. Other times when anxiety gets high I lash out at my spouse and feel like everything is spinning out if control and I can’t focus. Other times, a flip just switches and I go from almost hysterical crying (sometimes actually crying) to just nothing. Blank and breathing as if I wasn’t just almost hyperventilating.” — Elaine C.
16. “Extended, frequent trips to the washroom. Any excuse for a break, really. Any moment away is a momentum toward survival.” — Sidrat J.
17. “My husband knows my anxiety is high if I am squeezing/rubbing my forearm with my opposite hand. Hard. Or if I am sitting with my feet up and my feet seem restless. No one else realizes this.” — Wendy Z.
18. “I tend to break my nails really bad when I am in anxious situations. Or I’ll dig my nails into my hands or fingers. Mostly I just tend to freak out and start yelling or getting snappy and I start to shake and scratch my face.“ — Shayla A.
19. “I color or doodle. I just had this discussion with my boyfriend over the weekend, we were talking about something serious and I became anxious. I could feel my fight or flight feeling kicking in, along with backed up tears, and I picked up a pencil and started doodling. I was able to focus on the conversation by distracting myself with doodling. He thought I wasn’t paying attention and I told him when I am in situations that make me anxious (meetings, trainings, intense conversations) I will doodle or color to assist in staying engaged because it is important for me to be present, but it is more important to be able to not loose it.” — Tanya S.
20. “Grind my teeth sometimes and bite my inner cheek.” — Sinead M.
21. “Having to keep stretching at my desk at work because the muscles in my back and chest are so tense and painful. I don’t want others to think I’m lazy.” — Courtney G.
22. “My arms are always crossed! I might look mean, but that way I can somehow ease the chest pain or tingling.” — Jom C.
What would you add?