Physical Side Effects of Anxiety in the Body

The physical side effects of anxiety can be harsh and they often mimic other illnesses. What's the difference between anxiety in the body and another illness?

Anxiety exists in the body, and there are physical side effects of anxiety. We can experience anxiety symptoms throughout our whole being; indeed, anxiety impacts our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and sense of physical wellbeing. Symptoms of severe anxiety can be frightening and lead to even more anxiety. Anxiety invades the body, an unwelcome guest that overstays its unwelcome. The physical side effects of anxiety can cause difficulty and even agony.

Stress Leads to the Physical Side Effects of Anxiety

Life is full of stressors. It can feel as though we're bombarded by an endless deluge of demands, pressures, and worries. These force their way in and cause our thoughts to race day and night, relentlessly and ruthlessly.

Events outside of us are interconnected with our thoughts about those events, and both are connected to our emotions. Events, thoughts, and feelings create anxiety in the body, and the center of anxiety in the body is the brain. A look at the brain helps us understand the physical side effects of anxiety.

The brain is a wonderful, intricate, amazing organ: divided into different areas, housing multiple complex structures, creating neurotransmitters, producing or triggering the production of hormones like the stress hormone cortisol, crisscrossed by axons and dendrites, and so much more. It's the brain that reacts to our outer and inner worlds, and it's the brain that produces thoughts and emotions and anxiety. Anxiety is truly in your head because it's in your brain.

When the brain is mobilized, without a break, to face stress and anxiety, our entire body feels the impact. Anxiety is truly in the body, which results in physical side effects of anxiety that are harsh (Release Emotions Stored in the Body for Eating Disorder Recovery).

Physical Side Effects of Anxiety Mimic Other Health Conditions

Anxiety in the body makes us feel ill in a variety of ways. In addition to symptoms like migraines, nausea, aches and pains, sweating, and more, physical side effects of anxiety can directly mimic many serious health conditions. A partial list of conditions that anxiety makes us experience:

  • Acid reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Food intolerances/allergies
  • Heart conditions

The physical side effects of anxiety can be so insidious that they confuse and baffle health consumers and professionals alike. I was once diagnosed with asthma and was treated for years without success. Finally, I explored anxiety as a cause. As I addressed my anxiety, my "asthma" disappeared.

Anxiety was in my body, and the physical side effect was asthma-like. My brain's response to unrelenting anxiety was to react in a way that caused the same inflammation in my lungs that asthma would cause. Anxiety in my body felt like asthma .

The same type of brain activity in response to chronic anxiety leads to other symptoms as well. Anxiety and physical illness like to confuse people and cause general misery.

What to Do About Physical Side Effects of Anxiety

It's very important to avoid assuming that physical health problems are absolutely physical side effects of anxiety. If you are experiencing physical symptoms, the first step is to visit your doctor or healthcare provider to rule out physical illness. Sometimes, anxiety can make an existing physical illness worse, so getting that checked is crucial.

It's also important to treat anxiety. There are many different approaches to reducing anxiety. Medication is helpful in some cases; after all, anxiety is brain-based. There are also great benefits to working with a therapist to learn how to deal with problematic thoughts, to develop tools to regulate emotions in general and anxious feelings in particular, and to explore the underlying causes of anxiety. Learning about anxiety and managing it, finding support, and confronting it head-on are also helpful.

Anxiety isn't just a thought or a feeling. It's in the body, too. The physical side effects of anxiety can be extreme. They can also be improved.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2015, August 13). Physical Side Effects of Anxiety in the Body, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Avery Moehring
December, 13 2017 at 3:16 pm

Thank you. This blog helped me get a better understanding of the physical side effects of anxiety. It also helped me learn about how the brain plays a big part in anxiety.

Faith Sander
November, 2 2017 at 8:23 am

I'm 18, and I've suffered from anxiety since I was just a toddler, at 8 I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder. With my anxiety I've had plenty of physical symptoms such as colds, nausea, when I was in public school in large classes, I could literally feel my body go back and fourth because of how fast my heart would be because of panic.

Jennifer McClain
May, 26 2017 at 8:28 am

I am a 47 year old woman about a year ago i was struck with anxiety in the middle of the night. I have been seeing a NATUROPATHIC Doctor who has been treating me with natural herbs and vitamins. Recently we discovered the cause of my anxiety could be Celiac i have removed gluten from my diet completely, which seems to not have had any affect on reducing my anxiety. It has taken on many different forms over the last year, recently I am going through the not being able to breath feeling day in and day out. I have been to a doctor had a chest x-ray, pulmonary test, blog clot test, EKG and all have come back normal. My regular Doctor put me on singular daily and gave me a rescue inhaler as a preventative caution. When i am short of breath the rescue inhaler has not affect. I need some advise on how to overcome this physical anxiety as it is so consuming and frightening. I think to myself this is just anxiety but then my brain is telling me is is asthma - i don't know what to do.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

May, 29 2017 at 6:33 pm

Hi Jennifer,
It's good that you have seen doctors about your symptoms. While everything you mentioned can absolutely be a side effect of anxiety, it's always a good idea to get physical symptoms checked. Working with a therapist can be very helpful in helping you sort out what is happening with your anxiety and how to best treat it. This link takes you to an article about types of counseling and how to find a counselor:….

August, 15 2015 at 4:39 pm

A friend from work had chemo therapy and ended up with what they called "chemo brain". Her memory has suffered as a result. She is in her 50's and lives alone in an apartment. Sometimes she forgets simple things like what floor she lives on or what suite she lives in. Or she can't remember what apartment mailbox number is her's or it can be hard to remember when to pay her bills on time without post it notes as reminders. She's quite an independent spirit but can also become anxious when she needs to leave home on her own to do something. She used to be such a vibrant individual but now she is on disability and fighting to get her health and her life back. Her doctor says exercise is key to her health and wellness right now. Thank God she has a very supportive family who helps out a lot but still allows her to have some semblance of independent living.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 19 2015 at 7:02 pm

Hello r,
What is often called "chemo brain" is such an awful side effect of chemotherapy. Good for her for fighting to get her health and life back. It takes strength to do that! It's possible, though -- especially with the support system she has in place. I think her doctor is onto something, too, when he/she says that exercise is key. It's the tie again between anxiety/brain-based things and the body. They impact each other, which means they can help heal each other. I wish your friend great recovery.

August, 14 2015 at 9:22 am

I suffer from anxiety and it's ohysical symptoms to the point of being incapable of leaving my home. It increased drastically after chemo.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

August, 14 2015 at 11:05 am

Hello Magda,
Chemotherapy can drastically affect the body and brain (which is part of the body) in so many ways. Discussing your increased anxiety with your doctor could be helpful. He/she might very well have seen this in other patients and could help you with this. Also, there are therapists who are very skilled in helping people with debilitating anxiety. There is help available; you don't have to remain trapped or go at this alone!

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