All You Need to Know About the Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Medically Reviewed By Rebecca Barnhart, PharmD, BCPP

Although anxiety stems from mental responses, it may cause physical symptoms and manifestations of anxiety. In addition to emotional feelings of stress and worry, anxiety can result in a physiological response that produces physical symptoms in your body. Anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, can affect a person both mentally and physically.

Each person with anxiety will experience a different combination of symptoms.

Sometimes, temporary anxiety is an expected response to stress. However, clinicians may view anxiety as a disorder if it occurs over an extended period, causes substantial distress, or interferes with daily life. There are also different types of anxiety which vary based on their causes and how symptoms present.

This article will explain the physical symptoms of anxiety as well as how to treat them. It will explain how to differentiate physical symptoms of anxiety from other signs of illness. It will also answer some frequently asked questions about physical symptoms of anxiety.

Physical symptoms of anxiety

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Physical symptoms of anxiety can include:

The severity and duration of symptoms will vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience one or two symptoms, whereas others may experience a range or combination of effects.

Additional symptoms

There are a variety of different anxiety disorders that have different presentations. Physical symptoms may vary between types of anxiety, which have different characteristics.

Types of anxiety can include:

For example, physical symptoms of an anxiety attack or panic disorder may develop very suddenly. They are not necessarily due to a noticeable trigger.

Additionally, those with OCD may experience physical or sensory manifestations of compulsions. They may also experience other physical and mental symptoms, such as motor tics. For example, a person with OCD may have the mental compulsion to tap something a certain number of times.

Why does anxiety cause a physical response?

When your brain perceives stress or danger, your body triggers the nervous system. It then produces the fight-or-flight response to protect you.

This response causes the release of hormones called epinephrine and norepinephrine. They serve as messengers in your body by setting off physical reactions. These reactions are the symptoms of anxiety.

The fight-or-flight response is sometimes an expected and typical response to a threat. However, anxiety can trigger this response more often or in response to additional triggers. Anxiety symptoms or the fight-or-flight response may become frequent, disruptive, or chronic. This may indicate an anxiety disorder rather than a typical response to fear or stress.

When to seek help

Contact your doctor regarding new physical or psychological symptoms of anxiety. Physical anxiety symptoms can impact your quality of life and cause distress, so seeking medical support is important.

Although everyone experiences feelings of stress and anxiety from time to time, chronic anxiety symptoms could improve with care. Symptoms that are frequent, interfere with daily life, or do not easily resolve may indicate such a condition.

Additionally, some cases of anxiety may present an increased risk for other physical health problems. For example, researchers from a 2016 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggest that anxiety can influence heart health.

Researchers also note that diagnosis and treatment for anxiety can improve health outcomes and quality of life.

Differentiating anxiety

It can be hard to know when your physical symptoms are the result of anxiety or a different disorder.

This can be distressing for those who experience anxiety. Concern about your health may further trigger symptoms or cause worry. The National Institute of Mental Health Trusted Source National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Governmental authority Go to source notes that these worries can cause a vicious cycle of panic. This can present as a person worrying that they are experiencing a medical emergency. This person then experiences more stress, causing further physical symptoms of anxiety.

However, there are a few differences that may help identify whether your symptoms are due to anxiety or a different health condition.

With anxiety, you may notice that your physical symptoms have a particular trigger. For example, if you have a phobia, your symptoms may occur with exposure to what you fear.

Additionally, panic attacks typically resolve within 20–30 minutes and your symptoms may improve from that point.

By contrast, medically urgent causes of symptoms worsen over time instead of improving gradually. For example, a heart attack may cause worsening symptoms of rapid breathing or palpitations. A heart attack may also cause pain or pressure in the chest. This pain can radiate to the arm, jaw, or shoulder, and can occur during or after physical activity.

Seek medical help for the following symptoms

Panic or anxiety attacks do not typically require hospital attention.

However, it is advisable to seek medical help for the following symptoms:

  • a panic attack that continues for more than 20 minutes
  • feeling unwell after breathing returns to normal
  • persistent rapid or irregular heartbeat, even after feelings of panic subside
  • severe pain anywhere in the body

This is in case there is an underlying physical cause of your symptoms. A medical team will then be able to check for serious illness and give you appropriate care.

Tips for how to relieve physical symptoms of anxiety

Self-management and care techniques can help to alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety.

These techniques include:

  • breathing and relaxation exercises
  • meditation or mindfulness
  • exercise or physical activity
  • eating a balanced diet
  • noting the onset of your symptoms and any possible triggers
  • seeking support from your family, friends, or peers
  • trying to improve your sleep quality, for example by:
    • going to bed at the same time every day
    • avoiding using electronics before bed or in the bedroom
    • avoiding consuming caffeine, alcohol, or large meals just before bed
    • making sure your sleep environment is quiet, dark, and relaxing
    • allowing time to sleep for at least 7 or more hours each night

Treatment for anxiety

Self-management alone may not be enough to alleviate your symptoms of anxiety. If this is the case for you, a doctor can help you to access more effective treatments.

The most appropriate and effective treatment may depend on the cause of your anxiety, type of anxiety disorder, and your symptoms.

Generally, clinical treatment for anxiety can include:

  • medication
  • psychological therapies such as:
  • applied relaxation

Applied relaxation may help you respond to physical symptoms of anxiety. It works by relaxing the muscles in a certain way during anxiety-inducing situations. This can help you to relax your muscles quickly and consciously in response to a trigger. Using this technique, you can minimize the physical reactions to anxiety.

Further support

As anxiety can have a significant impact on health and well-being, finding effective help is important.

You can start looking for support by contacting your primary care doctor for advice and direction. You can also use therapist directories and social forms of support such as government or charity programs for advice.

Support for anxiety

Besides your doctor, the following sources can offer you advice and support. They also signal useful services to you that are available in your area.

Chat advice services for anxiety include:

You can also get help finding a therapist in your area with:


Anxiety can affect a person’s quality of life, especially if they are not able to receive effective treatment solutions.

However, combinations of clinical treatment and self-care can help to alleviate physical symptoms of anxiety and reduce their impact. This can help to improve a person’s quality of life and support recovery.


Below are some frequently asked questions about anxiety and its physical symptoms.

What are the physical symptoms of anxiety and depression?

Some physical symptoms of depression may be the same as those of anxiety, such as fatigue and sleep problems.

Additional physical symptoms of depression may include unexpected changes in weight, moving or speaking more slowly than typical for you, and loss of libido.

Learn more about how depression affects your body here.

What physical conditions can anxiety cause?

Without effective treatment, anxiety can cause Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source or exacerbate other physical conditions. These include sleep disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, cardiovascular disease, and inflammatory illness.


Anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as nausea, rapid breathing, sweating, and palpitations. This can occur due to the fight-or-flight response, which triggers the release of hormones that produce physical reactions.

Diagnosing the physical symptoms of anxiety is important. Anxiety can affect your quality of life and can increase the risk of further effects on health without treatment. Treatment and support includes therapy, medication, and self-relaxation techniques.

Contact your doctor regarding any new or disruptive symptoms of anxiety. This can also help to rule out other possible causes of physical symptoms.

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Medical Reviewer: Rebecca Barnhart, PharmD, BCPP
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 26
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.