Amid the fear and restlessness of anxiety, don’t overlook the physical symptoms

Recognize the signs of anxiety and find support from Norton Community Medical Associates primary care providers to address both physical and emotional symptoms.

The difficulty concentrating and the feeling of dread, irritability or restlessness that come with anxiety can make it difficult to notice some of the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Some level of anxiety is normal and a natural reaction embedded in our bodies. For instance, in a dangerous situation, our bodies respond by releasing hormones that help us recognize the danger, heightening our awareness to help us focus on finding a solution. Commonly called “fight or flight” response, this can be the good side of anxiety.

But when anxiety goes beyond normal nervousness or is heightened at the wrong times, it can interfere with your ability to function, trigger overreactions or leave you unable to control how you respond in certain situations. At that point it may have risen to the level of an anxiety disorder.

Understanding your symptoms and recognizing their cause can help you regain a feeling of safety and get through a period of anxiety or a panic attack. Panic attacks can be very frightening and come with chest pain. Don’t dismiss symptoms of a heart attack. No matter your age or overall health, seek emergency care if you might be having a heart attack.

“Your primary care provider, especially one who knows you from annual checkups as well as treating you when you are sick, can help if you are experiencing anxiety,” said Joshua H. Brandon, M.D., a family practice physician with Norton Community Medical Associates primary care. If medication is warranted, as a rescue measure or for long-term treatment, a primary care provider can help.

Sometimes anxiety can be an early sign of another illness such as heart disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, chronic pain or irritable bowel syndrome. Consulting with your primary care provider can help identify the cause of your anxiety.

Norton Community Medical Associates primary care providers work in collaboration with Norton Behavioral Medicine providers. Your primary care provider may refer you for short-term therapy sessions, either in-person or remotely, to help you with your anxiety.

You don’t have to push through anxiety symptoms

Annual checkups and an ongoing relationship with a primary care provider can help.

Book an annual checkup

In addition to anxiety symptoms of restlessness and excessive or intense fear, physical anxiety symptoms can include:

  • Muscle tension
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Hyperventilation
  • Dry mouth

Unexplained general aches and pain often are the symptoms of depression that patients first bring up before their primary care providers reach a depression diagnosis.

Types of anxiety disorders

Common anxiety disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association, include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. This is ongoing and excessive worry that interferes with daily life. The worries often focus on everyday situations such as situations at work, health of family members and even more mundane situations such as finishing chores around the house, keeping appointments and the like. Pain, including chronic pain, is often a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder.

Some with generalized anxiety disorder may consider it “high- functioning anxiety.” You may seem fine and even successful in many parts of life, but struggle with self-criticism, persistent fears and stress. You may have become skilled at covering up persistent worry, fear and a feeling of being on edge.

  • Social anxiety disorder. Formerly known as social phobia, this anxiety comes along with undue discomfort about embarrassment, rejection or humiliation in a social situation. It becomes an issues when you avoid the social situation or push through despite intense anxiety. To be a classified as a mental health disorder, the severe anxiety interferes with daily functioning for at least six months.
  • Panic disorder. This is related to panic attacks — a combination of physical and emotional symptoms, including a pounding heart, sweating, shaking, a sense of being smothered, light-headedness and a fear of losing control.
  • Separation anxiety disorder. This is an excessive fear of being separated from someone close to you. The level of fear isn’t appropriate for your age and persists for a month or so in children and six months in adults. Physical symptoms often develop in childhood and can persist into adulthood.

The cause of anxiety disorders isn’t known, but risk factors include family members with an anxiety disorder, suggesting genetic as well as environmental involvement.

Other mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, hoarding disorder and an eating disorder, are associated with anxiety.

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