As a psychiatrist, I have treated patients who have experienced unexplained symptoms. These patients have been to numerous doctors and specialists who performed numerous laboratory and imaging studies, all of which were normal, in addition to normal physical findings. Eventually, many of these patients were referred to psychiatry, as the normal laboratory and physical findings suggest a psychogenic cause. Below are 14 hidden symptoms of anxiety that you may have:
Headache may be a telltale sign of stress in general. A good dose of worrying can make this worse, as in generalized anxiety disorder. Having a headache may allow one to take time out and rest, effectively removing that person from a stressful situation (or from one’s own worrisome thoughts).
- Muscle tension and aches; on edge:
Being on edge and hypervigilant about the environment can lead to muscle tension and aches, as seen in generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Massage or taking a hot bath may alleviate this.
- Short of breath:
The inability to catch one’s breath may be a harbinger of a panic attack, which may be part of a panic disorder. When one is short of breath, it may be helpful to breathe into a paper bag. This helps to slow down the breathing, and the person is then able to take deep breaths and able to calm down.
Irritability may be due to being stressed out from excessive worrying, as seen in generalized anxiety disorder. Being worried, tense, fearful and sleep-deprived is not a happy state, but rather a miserable one, which leads to irritability.
- Fainting, drop attacks:
Someone who has been fainting and having drop attacks may have been to the doctor for workup of seizure disorder or cardiac problems. If physical findings are normal, then an anxiety disorder may be present, such as panic disorder. The panic attacks may induce fainting, as the rapid breathing is shallow, and not enough oxygen gets to the bloodstream and brain. As stated above, it may be helpful to breathe into a paper bag, as this helps the person to slow down their breathing and take more deep breaths. Deep breaths more effectively oxygenate the bloodstream than shallow ones, and thereby oxygenates the brain, preventing fainting.
- Not able to relax:
Ever go camping or to the beach and you find yourself not able to relax? Consider generalized anxiety disorder for someone who is not able to relax due to excessive worries. For these people, passive relaxation (ie lying on a beach) may not be helpful. Something more active, like walking or meditation, may be helpful, to distract the mind away from its worrisome thoughts.
- Difficulty concentrating:
Anxiety can make concentration and completion of tasks difficult, such as in generalized anxiety disorder. And when one can`t finish tasks, this only compounds the problem, and makes the anxiety worse. This can be a vicious cycle, unless the cycle is broken, like when one gets help for their anxiety.
Having problems with sleep may be indicative of anxiety. Anxious thoughts can keep one awake at night. But this sleep deprivation can make the anxiety worse. When the anxiety is treated, then sleep improves.
- Feelings of detachment:
Feelings of detachment or having out of body experiences may be indicative of a serious anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder. People who suffer from this have a feeling that everything is unreal. This can be quite distressing, as they feel like they are going insane. Get professional help immediately if you have this.
- Lump in throat:
Have you ever had a lump in your throat and had difficulty swallowing? Fear, worry and stress often accompany the lump in the throat. Patients with this complaint many times end up seeing an ENT doctor (ear, nose, throat). If the work-up does not reveal a physical cause, then a referral to a psychiatrist is in order.
- Trembling, shaking:
Trembling and shaking may be indicative of a panic attack, as seen in panic disorder. This is ultimately indicative of extreme fear, if not from a physical cause.
Anxiety, stress and worrying can induce nausea and gastrointestinal upset. Nausea from anxiety often is associated with loss of appetite. So with anxiety, comes poor nutrition, sleep deprivation, and irritability, leading to even worsening distress and worsening anxiety. These hidden symptoms do not occur in isolation…rather they occur as a constellation of symptoms.
When people are nervous or highly anxious, they sweat. Sweating may also be a harbinger for a panic attack, as seen in panic disorder.
- Chest pain/heart palpitations:
This one is a common presentation to an emergency room, where someone presents as having a heart attack, but physical and laboratory findings are normal. Consider a panic attack as seen in panic disorder, for this presentation.
In summary, the body gives telltale signs and clues that one may have anxiety. Certainly, anxiety disorders are not diagnosed with just an isolated symptom. Rather, these hidden symptoms occur as part of a constellation of symptoms. If one of the above hidden symptoms appears with no other physical explanation, then one should consider anxiety.