Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” Let’s face it; this is pretty vague. There are lots of surprising symptoms of anxiety that most people experience and don’t even realize are anxiety.

Just like when patients visit their primary care doctor, when clients attend therapy, the underlying issue is not what initially prompted them to start counseling.

When most people think of anxiety, they think of someone who is really nervous or worried. The reality is, this is only one symptom of anxiety.

8 surprising symptoms of anxiety


1. Insomnia

Chronic worry is exhausting, so it’s no surprise people with generalized anxiety disorder often fatigued. But sometimes the worry or other physical symptoms of anxiety make it difficult to fall, or stay asleep. In the short-term, this can take a toll on other aspects of physical and psychological well-being.

2. Stomach Pains

The vagus nerve is part of the nervous system. It begins at the brainstem and extends all the way down to the stomach. It is the mode of communication between your brain and your gut. Having a “gut feeling” or a “nervous stomach” are the result of the vagus nerve doing its job.

Anxiety is thought to be the most common cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), where the gastrointestinal system is no longer able to correctly process food. Indigestion, heartburn, gas and bloating, and abdominal cramps and pain can all be symptoms of anxiety as well.

3. Perfectionism

Many sufferers of anxiety spend a lot of time obsessing about themselves and their appearance. For some, it may be taking a really long time to complete a task to make sure it’s “perfect.” For others, it shows up in procrastination. Fearing failure, or falling short of perfect, can cause us to worry so much about doing something imperfectly, that we become immobilized and fail to do anything at all. And yet for others, it shows up in “all-or-nothing” thinking: “If I can’t get it perfect, there’s no point in doing it all.”

4. Muscle Pain

Experiencing frequent feelings of fear, panic, worry, and anxiety can lead to muscle pain and tightness. Our muscles become tense during moments of increased anxiety and the result is often sore, stiff muscles. People with anxiety often experience neck or back pain as a result of chronic muscle tension. Jaw discomfort – a side effect of clenching your teeth – is also frequently reported in people who need help with anxiety.

5. Skin Problems

Science has proven there is a clear connection between our skin and our emotions. This is clearly evident when our nerves give way to blushing, or a red rash on the chest and neck. When our body recognizes stress (it’s interpretation of anxiety) cortisol levels increase and spread through our bloodstream. Cortisol interferes with our immune system, which can produce skin irritations. Many people who struggle with conditions like eczema, find that their skin flares up when they are suffering from stress or anxiety. Increased levels of cortisol can also lead to acne, which you guessed it, can increase anxiety even more!

6. Irritability

Many people confuse irritability for anger and therefore label the problem as an anger issue. The reality is, irritability is more often a symptom of anxiety. Because anxiety puts our body in a constant state of heightened sensitivity, it’s only natural that irritability will follow. Often clients who attend therapy for anger management counseling are struggling with unrealized chronic anxiety.

7. Frequent Yawning

Some anxiety sufferers are lucky enough to get plenty of sleep and feel well-rested. Yet, they may still frequently yawn. Why? Anxiety often leads to irregular breathing habits. Some researchers think that yawning during feelings of anxiety is our body’s way or trying to regulate our breathing. Yawning essentially forces us to take a deep, belly breath, which helps to reset our breathing.

8. Needing Constant Reassurance

Reassurance can show up in the form of self-help books, constantly searching the internet for medical diagnoses, or asking the same question over and over in hopes of putting your mind at ease. Reassurance is a short term fix for worrying in that it helps put our mind at ease. Although it is not a solution and as such, people with anxiety will need to be reassured again and again.


While these are all surprising symptoms of anxiety, they don’t necessarily mean you have anxiety. They could also be indications of other things, such as medical issues. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your doctor first to rule out medical conditions.

If you need help with anxiety in or near New Haven, CT, find an awesome therapist you like and trust to help you navigate and manage your stress and anxiety so you can get back to living your best life.

James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in Greater New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.