You probably think of anxiety as a mental disorder, and it is. However, psychological distress might not be your first symptom. This condition has a habit of manifesting in sneaky ways.
Therefore, you need to use your mindfulness skills to recognize when things aren’t quite right. Here are six hidden anxiety symptoms and how to cope so you can get relief.
1. Intestinal Upset
Are you plagued with frequent stomach upset? If so, your fight-or-flight response might be the culprit. When you face danger, your sympathetic nervous system increases blood flow to your heart and muscles and away from your intestines as it prepares you for battle.
However, you can’t flee things like micromanaging supervisors or past-due bills. As a result, your system can remain permanently stuck on high alert. This lack of blood flow to your intestinal area may complicate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Your blood supply also provides fluid to your colon, and patients with this disorder sometimes experience hard and pellet-like bowel movements or thin, watery ones. If you have constipation, you may go as few as three times weekly, while people with diarrhea may make frequent dashes.
Additionally, your intestinal microbiome may influence anxiety, so pay attention to improving your diet. A recent review of studies published in the journal General Psychiatry suggests using probiotic and non-probiotic foods and supplements to regulate what they call the gut-brain axis. Out of the 21 studies they evaluated, 11 showed significant improvements in anxiety symptoms.
Another sneaky way that anxiety manifests is through your noggin. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol tell your body to prepare for something scary, flooding your muscles with blood and chemicals to propel flight. These substances cause muscular contractions and can make the tiny ones all around your head start to seize up and ache.
Additionally, anxiety sometimes manifests as bruxism or tooth-grinding. You might not even realize you do this — many people grind their teeth in their sleep. However, doing so can spur headaches and eventually wear down or break your teeth, leaving you with yet another problem to worry about. Your dentist can fit you with a specialty mouthpiece to prevent you from destroying your molars while you slumber.
3. Chest Pain
Few things produce more anxiety than chest pain — especially in the United States. Experts recommend seeking immediate medical treatment if your discomfort lasts longer than a few minutes. However, if you lack coverage or can’t afford your deductible, the thought of the bill may make you hesitate.
Even if you have a history of panic attacks, it’s tricky for medical personnel to determine the precise cause of your discomfort. Some patients experience severe pain and palpitations that can seem indistinguishable from a heart attack. Only you can ultimately decide the best course for your situation, but in general, you should seek care.
4. Neck and Backaches
Those chemical messengers like adrenaline and cortisol that tighten your head muscles can do the same number on your neck and back. You can compound the problem by sitting on an improperly fitted chair or squinting at your monitor.
Ensure your feet can sit flat on the floor when you bend your knees to 90 degrees, and position your monitor so you don’t have to lean forward to see it. Some people with severe lower back pain — regardless of if it’s caused by anxiety or something else — find relief with variable height desks or inflatable fitness balls instead of a traditional office swiveler.
5. A Short Fuse
Anxiety is a recognized mental disorder while stress is not — but too much tension can lead to its development. Even if you deny feeling on edge, your personality might broadcast your feelings in unpleasant ways.
Pay attention if you find yourself snapping at your loved ones or berating innocent cashiers. Don’t let your bad mood stress out someone else. Apologize to those you inadvertently hurt and force yourself to slow down and spend at least five to 10 minutes in mindfulness meditation. This quiet time can work wonders.
6. Zero Concentration
Did you ever have to read the same paragraph four or five times because you couldn’t focus on the words? If you lose your concentration ability, it could be a hidden anxiety symptom.
Anxiety presents a world of frightening possibilities to contemplate, and research on how the pandemic affected people revealed one reason it turns your brain to mush. When you have too much coming at you at once, it decreases your working memory capacity — the part that lets you process incoming information and turn it into coherent thoughts.
The effect is similar to opening 20 browser tabs and playing 20 different YouTube videos — and trying to concentrate on all of them at once. The human brain doesn’t work this way, so use mindfulness to slow down and tackle one task at a time.
Recognize These Hidden Anxiety Symptoms and How to Handle Them
Anxiety is a tricky disorder, and mental distress might not be your first sign. Learn how to recognize these hidden symptoms so you know when it’s time to seek help.
Kara Reynolds is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Momish Magazine. Mom and step mom living her best life while managing anxiety and normalizing blended families. She enjoys pilates, podcasts, and a nice pinot grigio.
How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.