Surprising symptoms of anxiety

Close up of middle aged woman with hand coverying eyes

All of a sudden, you get that tight feeling in your chest. You recognise the sense of dread that fills your stomach, and start finding it difficult to breathe. Some people describe it as that flighty feeling of skipping a stair and struggling to regain your balance. These are all common symptoms of anxiety, that most people would be able to pinpoint. But what’s less common is an understanding of the surprising symptoms that aren’t quite as well known.

To help lift the lid on anxiety we’ve put together a guide to some of the lesser known symptoms. Whether you notice them in yourself or in a loved one, they should be able to help you identify anxiety, and take action.

Living in a dream

According to psychologists one of the most unusual symptoms of anxiety is feeling as though you’re watching yourself from above. Anxiety sufferers can often find themselves entering a dreamlike state, where they go through the motions but don’t actually feel present. Professionals refer to this as depersonalisation, which describes the feeling that one’s thoughts and emotions don’t belong to them. It exists because the body has entered a fight or flight mode. Rather than deal with issues, the brain simply rejects stimuli and creates a sense of disconnection.

Acne, rashes and eczema

No, acne isn’t just for teenagers. Dermatologists maintain that there’s a distinct connection between emotions and the complexion, especially when it comes to anxiety. The body interprets anxiety as stress, which boosts cortisol production. This interferes with the body’s defence systems, which can trigger adult acne, rashes, eczema and other skin conditions. If you’ve noticed your skin’s deteriorating, it could be anxiety in disguise.

Stomach churns and pains

That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach is one thing. But did you know that anxiety can also trigger physical pain in the gut? Beginning at the brainstem and extending all the way down to the stomach, the vagus nerve lets you know when you’re feeling pain or discomfort. During states of anxiety it can work in overtime, and send pain signals that aren’t really there. Experts also explain that anxiety is one of the most common causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). If you’re an IBS sufferer, perhaps a relaxing yoga session could be just what the doctor ordered.

Flailing focus

It can be hard to stay focussed at the best of time, but throw anxiety into the mix and you may feel as though you’re spiralling out of control. When the body reacts to stress brain functioning takes a hit, and it’s much easier to feel distracted, restless and forgetful.

Close up of middle aged woman with hand coverying eyes

Tightness and tension

No, you probably didn’t just get a bad night’s sleep or overdo it at the gym. If you suffer from anxiety, tightness and tension in the muscles is a bona fide side effect. Jaw strain is common, as is a feeling of stiffness around the neck and shoulders. Yes, you can definitely get a massage. But ultimately the best way to combat tension triggered by anxiety is with a lifestyle change.

On average, around 6% of New Zealanders experience psychological distress. Knowing and understanding the symptoms is a critical part of tackling mental health, and helping both yourself and loved ones live a happier, healthier life.