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When we talk about anxiety, we often talk about mental symptoms. We talk about unexplained fears. We talk about irrational worries. We talk about feelings of dread and “worst-case scenario thinking.” Many people that struggle with anxiety have these issues.

Still, anxiety doesn’t always manifest itself the same way for everyone. While many people that have anxiety know that it causes physical symptoms (such as shaking, sweating, and rapid heartbeat), most people assume that these physical symptoms are the result of worries, fears, etc. 

Yet it is possible for some people to develop the physical symptoms of anxiety without realizing that they have these stresses and worries. Essentially, it’s possible to have the physical symptoms of anxiety without a person feeling worried or fearful at all. 

Please note: Flourish Psychology is based in Brooklyn but licensed to provide mental health services in over 30 states. Please see our locations list and contact us if you’d like support. 

Physical-Only Anxiety – How Anxiety Affects the Body

Irrational worries, fear, and stress can trigger the activation of the fight or flight system. That activation can lead to symptoms that include:

  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Fast Breathing
  • Muscle Tension
  • Sweat
  • Difficulty Concentrating

If faced with real danger, these symptoms would keep us safe from harm. With a faster heartbeat, we’d be able to run quickly without getting as tired. By sweating, our bodies would not overheat. Trembling is caused by the adrenaline we need to react quickly, and so on. 

We know that many different issues can lead to anxiety. For some people, it’s trauma. For others, it is lifestyle choices. For some, it is life experiences, and for others it is genetics. We also know that, because anxiety can have so many causes, it can also present itself in different ways.

That is why some people seem to have the physical symptoms of anxiety, without necessarily the thoughts that we often associate with it. They may not feel fearful. They may not feel worried. They may not even notice they’re feeling very stressed at all. But their legs start to shake, their heartbeat starts to race, they may sweat a bit more – they experience the physical symptoms, even the absence of any thoughts to trigger them.

Many people with this form of anxiety do not realize they have anxiety at all. When someone that presents with this type of anxiety also has panic attacks, it’s not uncommon for them to feel like the panic attacks come “out of nowhere,” because they do not feel any intense worries or fears at the time the panic attack is triggered. They may even develop health anxieties as a result. 

Even though this type of anxiety may present differently, it is still anxiety. Because it is still anxiety, it also tends to respond well to treatments.

How We Approach “Physical Only” Anxiety

We often find that people with this form of anxiety do have stresses and worries that they’re struggling with, but they’re just not at the forefront of their minds at the time. We try to figure out what types of stresses the person may be under to determine if they are suppressing their feelings.

We also look for thoughts that may be triggering anxiety but do not feel like anxious thoughts at the time. For example, a person with “physical only anxiety” may worry about the symptoms themselves, creating a cycle where their concern over experiencing these symptoms ends up triggering their anxiety. Because their worries end up coming to fruition, they may not realize that it was triggered by that worry.

We also look for relaxation techniques and stress management strategies, to help people that may feel this type of tension learn to breathe slower and relax. These are some of the many ways that a person struggling with the physical symptoms of anxiety can find value in getting treatment from a trained therapist.

Getting Help for Physical Anxiety Symptoms

Anxiety responds well to treatment, and those struggling with physical anxiety with no clear negative or anxious thoughts should still seek help. Psychologists that understand anxiety, like those at Flourish Psychology, can provide the support and help that patients need in order to learn to manage these physical symptoms and find relief in their day-to-day lives using services like CBT. Learn more by contacting Flourish Psychology in NYC, today. 

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