28 Feb 2018

7 Surprising Anxiety Symptoms

Many people have a rather simplistic idea of what anxiety actually is, often associating the term with 'nerves' or maybe even 'panic'. But anxiety has dozens and dozens of complex symptoms, including ones that most people wouldn't automatically associate with anxiety. And even people who themselves experience these less talked about anxiety symptoms don't always realise that those symptoms are in fact a result of an underlying anxiety disorder. As someone with severe anxiety myself, who has displayed many different symptoms over the years, I have fallen into that latter category many times in the past. But over time I have become more and more familiar with the wide spectrum of anxiety symptoms.

Below I've compiled a list of 7 unusual symptoms that can manifest as a result of anxiety. All of which I have experienced myself. These symptoms can present themselves in acute anxiety attacks, but also in someone with an anxiety disorder's day-to-day life, at times when one may not feel otherwise anxious. 

Superstitious tendencies
A definitive link can be made between superstitiousness and anxiety. To illustrate, here's an example from my own life. As a teenager, I picked up the habit of 'touching wood'; a common superstitious practice where, after verbally noting a positive occurrence, one then touches or knocks on wood in order to stop the good fortune from being 'jinxed'. But soon my touching wood habit escalated. And for a year I spent an hour each night considering any potential bad event I could think of, and then touching the wood of my blinds twice to make sure that they wouldn't happen. Luckily for me, I soon identified how much this practice was having a negative impact on my life, both physically (I was losing sleep) and mentally (it was troubling to force myself to think of so many bad things every night). And I successfully managed to stop doing it cold turkey.
Many superstitious practices include rituals and compulsions. And these can easily be adopted by an anxious person in an attempt to regain control over - and to stop - potential bad things one worries or believes could or will happen. These sort of practices are more specifically a symptom of OCD, which is an anxiety disorder. My own example is an extreme one. But it's not surprising to find that a lot of mildly superstitious people may also have some levels of anxiety.

Tripping up on words 
When I'm anxious in a social situation I'll often forget obvious words mid-conversation, and then I'll trip up on the words that I actually remember. But more oddly, I find that I go through phases when this will happen even when I'm talking to people I'm fully comfortable with.
It turns out that stuttering and tripping up on words is a common symptom of anxiety. This can result from overthinking your words, or from the extra stress you're carrying affecting your ability to speak at ease. Even though you may feel relatively calm in the moment, stuttering can still be happening as a result of underlying, below-surface anxiety. I find that my stuttering seems to become more prevalent during periods where I'm under more stress than usual, for example, when I have a looming university deadline on the horizon.

Trouble swallowing food
Another simple thing that anxiety can complicate is the ability to swallow food properly. A couple of years ago I went through a phase where every time I ate a piece of food it would somehow find itself half way up my nasal passage rather than down my throat. And the times when the food did go down rather than up I would still manage to choke on it. I did some research on why this could be happening, and to my surprise, I saw that it was often a symptom of anxiety. I knew I was someone with severe anxiety, but I felt okay at the time, so I wasn't sure that this was the case for me. But sure enough, over the next few weeks the choking, along with the others symptoms I was starting to experience, became progressively worse and worse (the choking got so bad I became scared to eat). I finally ended up in A&E as a result of my symptoms and there I was prescribed a course of the anti-anxiety medication Diazepam (Valium). Taking this completely relieved me of my choking, as well as my other terrible symptoms. And this made me realise that my anxiety had, in fact, been making me choke.
Choking on food (or on drinks, saliva, or seemingly nothing) can happen when one's body is in a state of high stress or anxiety. It's rarely dangerous, but if not treated can become very uncomfortable and can affect one's quality of life.

Intrusive thoughts (*trigger warning*)
An intrusive thought is an unwanted thought or image that keeps on entering one's mind during day-to-day life, and is often disturbing in nature. An example of an intrusive thought I experienced in the past was the notion that at any point I could fall, hit my head and die. I went a few weeks with that thought/fear constantly popping into my head at random times, leaving me feeling disturbed, uneasy and unable to enjoy my life in a carefree manner.
Intrusive thoughts can be scary for many reasons; often because one believes that they could actually end up happening, or just simply because the thoughts themselves can be very distressing. My intrusive thoughts are usually very vivid, as if I'm experiencing the terrible thing itself - feeling an extreme sense of high adrenaline and panic whenever the thought hits. They can also be debilitating. Mine are usually about me (or someone I'm close to) dying. And because of this, there have been times where I've been rendered frozen in fear, not wanting to move an inch, as to lessen to odds of me meeting the violent fate that's repeating itself in my head.
Intrusive thoughts are often linked to OCD, as they are 'obsessions.' In some cases they can also be the precursor to rituals (see paragraph on superstitions). 

Allergic reactions
A few years ago I visited an allergy specialist to get to the bottom of why I was suddenly experiencing moderate allergic reactions every day. I was given two possibilities for why this could be happening; one, that there was something I'm coming into contact with on a daily basis that I was allergic to, or two, my histamine levels were raised due to going through a period of high stress. The latter made sense to me, as I was then experiencing a period in my life where my anxiety was causing major strain on my body in many ways. A few years later, and I'm still experiencing chronic allergies, and I haven't managed to find anything in particular that I'm actually allergic to. I've also come to notice that when my anxiety is high my allergies get worse.
You may have seen the common trope in film & tv where the highly anxious person is constantly breaking out in hives. This is something that happens to anxious people in real life too, and can illustrate simply the connection between anxiety and allergic reactions.

Without knowing it, someone who spends much of their day in an anxious disposition can pick up unhealthy breathing habits. These can be subtle, for example breathing at a faster rate or breathing with an open mouth. Unfortunately, overtime anxious breathing patterns can lead to breathlessness. This is because incorrect breathing patterns associated with anxiety can disturb the correct balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. As a result, one can feel very breathless for a short time, or even chronically.
Have a read of my post explaining correct breathing exercises to combat anxiety here.

When I have panic attacks they usually manifest themselves very physically. But once in a blue moon, I experience a panic attack that's primary symptom is derealisation. Derealisation is a form of dissociation, in which one's external world begins to feel distorted or unreal. Reality can seem distant and as if it's lacking the same substance or depth that it had before. This can happen to someone as a result of extreme stress or anxiety.
My latest experience of derealisation was the longest and most frightening that I've experienced. It lasted a couple of days and I thought that the world would never feel the same to me again. But other than this more recent case, I've luckily mostly experienced derealisation acutely in a panic attack. But it's not uncommon for anxiety (and depression) sufferers to experience this symptom chronically. 

Did any of the symptoms on the list surprise you? Do you experience any of these yourself?

Follow this link to be matched with an online therapist: BetterHelp

Note: this post is primarily based on my own experiences as an anxiety sufferer, as well as being informed by the information I've collected from literature and mental health professionals over the years. With that being said, if you have any of the symptoms listed above please seek direct medical advice from a professional. 

This list isn't exhaustive, nor will everyone with anxiety experience the symptoms listed. 

For more information on the topics discussed in this post see:  Mind,  Anxiety Centre,  Calm Clinic

Disclaimer: This post contains a paid link insertion, but all content is my own.

Amani x

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  1. it's weird how something as innocent as a superstition can become the point of fixation! i had this too with crack mirrors and bad luck

    1. Very true! And interesting to hear the different things people's anxieties can fixate on, but I'm glad to hear your anxiety with mirrors seems to be in the past? :)

  2. It's so strange how that happens with the food. It use to happen to me as well and at the time I was suffering for terrible anxiety which obviously when it happens makes the anxiety even worse !!!

    1. Yes! Anxiety symptoms can cause such vicious cycles! I hope you're doing better

  3. It's so interesting how different we react to things. It's so true that anxiety has many different forms and we all show it differently.

    Much love,
    Marianne x

    1. Agreed, anxiety is such a broad illness!

  4. I never knew that anxiety could cause allergic reactions. I find that very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

    1. No worries, glad your found the post interesting :)

  5. This is so interesting, thanks for sharing. As a teenager I had a habit where every morning when making my bed I had to tap each individual teddy on my bed (I had about 20 sat on my bed!). It felt ridiculous but was something I told myself I had to do. I also found before switching the tv off I had to press the volume increase button twice, then decrease button twice, then do the same again and THEN I could turn it off. Thankfully I managed to overcome those habits but I do still do the 'touch wood' thing. I'll tell myself if I don't do it then something bad will happen. Sometimes I can ignore it but it just feels easier to do it sometimes if that makes sense?

    Melissa x www.memoriesandmishapsblog.wordpress.com

    1. I can relate! I'm glad your habits have calmed down a lot. I still do the touch would thing a bit, but these days I often catch myself and tell myself that nothing bad will happen

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