This is the most Frequently Asked Question I get asked about anxiety…
My biggest question is how can anxiety/stress create such scary physical symptoms? I’ve been to the doctor and they can’t find anything wrong, but I still get chest tightness, heart palpitations, dizziness, etc. Also, how do these symptoms persist even though I do not feel anxious or stressed?
Anxiety Starts in Your Mind
Your thoughts and automatic reactions to situations trigger a part of your brain called the amygdala, a critical part of your “fight or flight response.” In medicine and psychology, we refer to this as the “stress response.”
This automatic stress response triggers real physiological responses in your body by increasing production of certain chemicals in the brain/body/bloodstream. These chemicals are your stress hormones: cortisol, adrenaline, DHEA and a few others.
Anxiety Moves into Your Body
We all need a certain amount of stress hormones to function normally. However, with extreme or chronic stress and anxiety, your body becomes overloaded with stress chemicals and an imbalance is created. At some point your body cannot keep up with the processing of all these excess stress chemicals, so it cannot continue functioning “business as usual.” Thus, eventually physical symptoms of anxiety appear.
Anxiety can create some pretty scary symptoms, such as:
- Chest tightness
- Heart palpitations
- Dizziness or light-headedness or “out of body” feeling
- Hot flashes or perspiration
- Numbing or tingling in legs, arms or head
- Trembling or shaking
- Choking sensation
Anxiety or a panic attack can come up immediately in response to given situation (such as when you’re giving a presentation, or late for an important meeting, or stuck in an elevator, or faced with your fear of flying). In such cases, you’re aware that physical anxiety symptoms are a direct response to a stressor or anxiety going on right in that moment.
“But I Don’t Even FEEL Anxious”
However, physical anxiety symptoms don’t always appear like that, right in the moment. They can pop up even at seemingly random times, even when you don’t feel stressed or anxious in that particular moment. It can happen while you are sitting watching TV or even while you are sleeping.
This seems random but it’s not. It can happen for two different reasons:
1. There is an accumulation of stress chemicals over time. When you experience continued stress or anxiety-provoking thoughts or situations repeatedly, the excess stress chemicals build up over time. You may not experience the physical symptoms until later when your body simply can’t handle the overload of chemicals any longer. It’s like a delayed or cumulative response.
2. Often times, anxiety occurs in the sub-conscious part of your mind. This is tricky because the word “sub-conscious” literally means “below your consciousness.” In other words, you’re not always aware of what’s causing the anxiety, and you may not be feeling anxious in a particular moment, yet the physical symptoms are your sign that chronic stress or anxiety is there under the surface (in your sub-conscious mind).
Get to the Root Cause of the Problem
Regardless of how or when physical anxiety symptoms may show up for you, what we know is this: anxiety symptoms are triggered by thoughts and processes going on in your mind.
Therefore, the key to getting rid of anxiety is retraining your thoughts and your amygdala so they don’t produce so many excess stress chemicals in the first place. This is done with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), along with holistic mind-body techniques so you can learn how to take control of your physical symptoms and stop them in their tracks. [See more about my Holistic Treatment for Anxiety HERE.]