“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

If anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress, why do I have symptoms when I don’t feel stressed?

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Updated: May 11, 2019

anxiety symptoms but don't feel anxious image

It’s common for anxious personalities to have symptoms when they don’t feel stressed. Here are five reasons for this:

1. Behaving apprehensively stresses the body.
Behaving in an apprehensive manner (worried, fretful, fearful, nervous) causes the body to activate the stress response, which causes the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason this response is often referred to as the fight or flight response or the emergency response.

Because of these physiological, psychological, and emotional changes, stress responses stress the body. The more anxious you are, the more stressed the body becomes. A body that becomes overly stressed can exhibit symptoms of stress.

2. Behaving overly apprehensively can overly stress the body, which can cause symptoms of stress to linger.
When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. When stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi emergency readiness state, which we call stress-response hyperstimulation since stress hormones are stimulants. A body that becomes stress-response hyperstimulated can exhibit similar sensations and symptoms to that of an active stress response even though the body hasn’t experienced an active stress response.

Remember, anxiety symptoms are actually symptoms of stress. We call them anxiety symptoms because behaving overly apprehensively is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become overly stressed and symptomatic.

3. As long as the body is overly stressed (stress-response hyperstimulated), it can exhibit symptoms of any type, number, duration, intensity, and frequency, and at any time.
This is why you could be days and even weeks after a major stressor and still experience the effects of stress, such as symptoms. This is also why symptoms of stress can come and go even though you don’t feel stressed in that moment.

As long as the body is overly stressed, even to a slight degree, the body can exhibit symptoms.

4. The level of stress you feel can ‘seem’ normal, even though it is elevated.
Anxious personalities live overly anxious, and therefore, stressed lives…and for a very long time. Consequently, the elevated level of stress they feel can seem ‘normal’ even though it is elevated.

This is another reason why a person can experience symptoms of stress and not understand why: even though he doesn’t feel overly stressed, his body is and it is letting him know via symptoms.

5. Many anxious personalities are unaware of their anxious behavior and the stress and symptoms it causes.
Similar to point 5, behaving overly apprehensively for a long time can make behaving overly apprehensively seem ‘normal.’ Again, as long as the body is overly stressed, even to a slight degree, it will exhibit symptoms. If your body is experiencing symptoms of stress, your body is overly stressed even though you may think your overly apprehensive behavior and/or stress is normal.

Experiencing symptoms of stress means your body is overly stressed. Period! Eliminating the body’s overly stressed state will eliminate symptoms of stress. As you most likely already know from our materials, eliminating hyperstimulation is a process that can take a very long time. In the meantime, expect symptoms to linger until the body has fully recovered from its overly stressed state.

For more reasons, Recovery Support members can read the “Symptoms Yet Not Stressed” answer in Chapter 10 (the Frequently Asked Questions section) in the Recovery Support area.

Also, for more information, Recovery Support members can read the “Understanding the Disconnect Between Stress and Anxiety” section in Chapter 6.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including why you can have anxiety symptoms but not feel stressed.