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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Zajdel, PhD

How Are Anxiety Physical Sensations Helpful?

Anxiety is often viewed as unwelcome, with many unsettling sensations. However, what if the physical sensations of anxiety could be reframed as helpful signals rather than hindrances?

Let's dive into the world of anxiety and explore how its physical manifestations might actually be helpful.




Nauseous Stomach:

When you get a stomachache while anxious, it is a signal that your digestive system is slowing down. This allows the energy typically used for digestion to be used in more helpful areas in a fight/flight system response. Similarly, your body may decrease salivation, which can lead to a dry mouth, less digestion, and feelings of nausea – all in the name of conserving energy.


Racing Heartbeat:

When anxiety kicks in, your heart may feel like it's running a marathon. Rather than interpreting this as a cause for concern, consider it as your body's way of pumping more blood and oxygen to your muscles and brain, preparing you for action.


Shaky Hands or Trembling:

Have you ever noticed your hands shaking before a nerve-wracking event? This physical sensation is a result of increased adrenaline, a hormone released in response to stress. Embrace the trembles as a sign that your body is priming itself for a burst of energy.



Sweating, though sometimes inconvenient, is a natural response to anxiety. It's your body's way of regulating temperature during moments of stress. So, that nervous perspiration? It's your body's efficient cooling system at work. Sweating also causes the body to become more slippery, making it harder for a predator (or opponent!) to grab you.


Shortness of Breath:

Feeling like you can't catch your breath? Shortness of breath is a common anxiety symptom. You may also start to sigh, yawn, or notice breathlessness, choking or smothering feelings, or tightness or pain in the chest. It occurs due to the body's activation of the fight-or-flight response, prioritizing oxygen delivery to vital organs. Embrace it as a sign that your body is optimizing itself for performance.



Shortness of breath reduces the blood supply to the head, and while this is not dangerous, you might feel dizziness, light-headedness, blurred vision, confusion, feelings of unreality, and hot flushes. All of this is in service to getting more oxygen to your vital organs.


Muscle Tension:

Your muscles may feel tight as your body prepares to either fight or flee. This can lead to aches and pains and trembling and shaking.


Blurred Vision:

Your body wants you to be as prepared as possible in an emergency, so the pupils of your eyes may widen to let in more light. This enables you to better scan the environment for danger. It may also lead to blurred vision, spots before the eyes, or just a sense that the light is too bright.


Cold or Tingling Fingers and Toes:

If you’ve ever noticed your fingers or toes being cold when you’re anxious, it’s because your blood is moving from areas that aren’t as necessary to those that are, such as large vital organs. Your skin may look pale, you might feel cold, or there could be a feeling of numbness and tingling in your fingers and toes.




Heightened Alertness:

The physical sensations of anxiety are a manifestation of your body's heightened state of alertness. These sensations signal that your body is gearing up to face a challenge, helping you stay sharp and focused.


Energy Surge:

Anxiety triggers the release of adrenaline, providing a surge of energy. Rather than interpreting this as a drawback, consider it as a boost that can enhance your physical and mental capabilities during challenging situations.


Preparation for Action:

The physical sensations associated with anxiety are your body's way of preparing for action. Whether it's the racing heartbeat or the shaky hands, these responses are designed to equip you for optimal performance in demanding scenarios.


Cue for Mindfulness:

Acknowledging and embracing the physical sensations of anxiety can serve as a cue for mindfulness. Instead of trying to suppress or fight these sensations, practice being present with them. This mindfulness can help you navigate anxiety more effectively.


Learning and Growth:

Embracing anxiety's physical sensations as helpful signals fosters a mindset of learning and growth. Each time you encounter these sensations, see it as an opportunity to understand yourself better and develop resilience in the face of challenges.




While anxiety's physical sensations may initially seem like uninvited guests, reframing them as helpful signals can transform your relationship with anxiety. Embrace the jitters as your body's way of gearing up for success, and remember, those butterflies might just be guiding you toward your finest moments.


So, the next time anxiety knocks on your door, open it with curiosity and welcome the physical sensations as allies on your journey.


Do you notice these physical sensations when you get anxious? Therapy for anxiety can help you develop tools to use them as a strength rather than a hinderance!



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