Why do I have anxiety symptoms when I don’t feel anxious?
Having anxiety symptoms when you don't feel anxious is a common anxiety disorder experience. Many anxiety disorder sufferers have wrestled with the question “Why do I have anxiety symptoms when I don’t feel anxious?”
Fortunately, there are good reasons why anxiety can cause persistent 24/7 symptoms even though you don’t feel anxious in that moment. Knowing these reasons can help you eliminate 24/7 anxiety symptoms even though you might not feel anxious at the time, that day, or that week.
Many medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Therefore, we recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms be discussed with your doctor. If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause. Generally, most doctors can easily determine the difference between stress- and anxiety-caused symptoms from those caused by a medical condition or the side effects of medication.
Doctors aren’t infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you may want to seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured that anxiety and the stress it causes is the cause of your symptoms.
If your symptoms have been solely attributed to anxiety or stress, it’s common for anxious people to have anxiety symptoms when they don’t feel anxious. There are several reasons for this. Here are the most common:
1. You may not be aware you are an anxious person
Many anxious people grow up thinking their behaviors are normal and not anxious. Because their behaviors feel “normal” and haven’t caused problems in the past, they don’t think they are an anxious person.
Many anxious people first become aware they have issues with anxiety when their unexplained physical symptoms alert them to a problem with anxiety. Numerous times we’ve heard Recovery Support members and therapy clients say, “I didn’t know I had issues with anxiety until I started having symptoms and wanted to know what was causing them.”
When anxiety symptoms appear and you don’t know you’re an anxious person, you can have physical symptoms of anxiety without “feeling” anxious. So, it’s not that you aren’t anxious, but that you aren’t aware of it and aren’t aware that your anxious behaviors are causing physical symptoms.
You can take our free online anxiety test and our anxiety disorder test to see if you are an anxious person, and if so, to what degree and if your level of anxiety could be considered an anxiety disorder.
2. Apprehensive behavior stresses the body.
Behaving in an apprehensive manner (worrying, fretting, being fearful, nervous) causes the body to activate the stress response, which secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots 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, the emergency response, or the fight, flight or freeze response (some people become so frightened that they freeze with fear similar to a “deer caught in headlights”).
These physiological, psychological, and emotional changes stress the body. As anxious behavior increases, so does the body’s level of stress. A body that becomes chronically stressed can exhibit symptoms of stress.
Anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. We call them anxiety symptoms because anxiety is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become stressed and symptomatic.
3. Overly apprehensive behavior can chronically stress the body, which can cause symptoms 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, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a state of semi stress response readiness, 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.
Again, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. We call them anxiety symptoms because overly apprehensive behavior is the main source of the stress that causes the body to become chronically stressed (hyperstimulated) and symptomatic.
4. The adverse effects of stress can last a long time, and much longer than most people realize.
Research has found that a little bit of stress can last a long time…up to four times as long as the original stressor. This is why even though the stressor has passed, the body can still experience the adverse effects of stress…and long after the stressor has ended.
5. As long as the body is chronically stressed (hyperstimulated), it can exhibit symptoms of any type, number, duration, intensity, frequency, and at any time.
This is why it can be days and even weeks after a major anxious episode and you might still experience the effects of stress, such as symptoms. This is also why anxiety symptoms can come and go even though you don’t feel anxious at that moment.
As long as the body is chronically stressed, even to a slight degree, it can exhibit symptoms.
6. The level of stress you feel can ‘seem’ normal even though it is elevated.
Anxious people typically live overly anxious, and therefore, stressed lives…and for a very long time. Consequently, the stress they feel can seem “normal” even though it is elevated above the normal range.
This is another reason why a person can experience symptoms and not understand why: even though he doesn’t feel overly anxious, his body is overly stressed, and it is letting him know via symptoms.
7. Because anxiety symptoms are actually symptoms of stress, other sources of stress may be causing your symptoms.
Since there are many sources of stress, there could be another source of stress that is causing your persistent symptoms.
For example, rigorous physical exertion, such as hard physical work or strenuous exercise stresses the body, too. If you have worked hard or too long, your body may experience symptoms of stress even though you may not feel anxious. Persistent loud noises, frustrating circumstances, being too hot or cold, sleep deprivation, heavy cognitive load, and even being at an exciting event can all stress the body, which can cause symptoms…and long after the situation or circumstance has passed.
So, even though you don’t feel anxious, other sources of stress may have stressed your body to the point of hyperstimulation, causing lingering or persistent symptoms.
8. Many anxious people are unaware of the underlying factors that are causing issues with anxiety.
Anxiety is motivated by unhealthy underlying factors: those behaviors, situations, and circumstances that cause issues with anxiety. These factors most often set up at an early age.
When a person behaves apprehensively from an early age, their overly apprehensive behavior and the stress it causes can seem “normal.” But again, as long as the body is overly stressed, even to a slight degree, it can exhibit symptoms. If your body is experiencing symptoms of stress, it is overly stressed even though you might think your behavior and stress are normal.
Experiencing symptoms of stress means your body is stressed!
9. Side effects of medication can mimic anxiety symptoms
Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms. For instance, many anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications can cause symptoms similar to anxiety, such as headaches, nausea, diarrhea, dry eyes, dizziness, sweating, trembling, brain zaps, and so on.
If you suspect your medication is causing anxiety-like side effects, talk with your doctor and pharmacist about reducing your dosage, switching to a different medication, or discontinuing your medication altogether if that is an option.
How To Get Rid Of Anxiety Symptoms When Not Anxious
Since these types of symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation, eliminating hyperstimulation (chronic stress) will eliminate symptoms of hyperstimulation.
Anything that reduces your stress will help to eliminate hyperstimulation. Certainly, you’ll need to address your anxious behaviors, since they are the primary cause of persistent anxiety symptoms. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to identify and successfully address the many underlying factors that cause issues with problematic anxiety.
As your body’s overall level of stress decreases, hyperstimulation will reverse.
For more information about how to eliminate hyperstimulation and the many barriers of doing so, Recovery Support members can read chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, and 14.
Unfortunately, eliminating hyperstimulation is a process that can take a long time. In the meantime, expect symptoms to persist until the body has recovered and stabilized.
The above are just a few of the reasons why we can experience symptoms when we don’t “feel” anxious.
When I (Jim Folk) was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and told that stress was the cause of my symptoms, I laughed. I thought my doctor was completely out to lunch. But after working to overcome anxiety disorder, it was clear that stress WAS the cause. I didn’t realize it at the time because I had grown so used to my overly apprehensive behavior and the high level of stress it produced. It all seemed NORMAL to me.
The good news is that experiencing symptoms when you don’t feel anxious is a common sentiment among anxiety disorder sufferers. The bad news is that the body will exhibit symptoms UNTIL hyperstimulation has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover and stabilize. In the meantime, expect symptoms and learn to not react to them. They will disappear when you faithfully practice your recovery strategies, including containing your anxiousness.
If you are having difficulty containing your anxiousness, it’s best to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists to help you learn and apply this important skill.NOTE: Anti-anxiety, antidepressant, other prescription, and over-the-counter remedies and medications can cause symptoms similar to those caused by anxiety and stress. If you are taking any remedy or medication, it’s wise to discuss it with your doctor AND pharmacist to ensure it isn’t the cause of your persistent symptoms.
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.
- For a comprehensive list of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms Signs, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.
- Anxiety and panic attacks symptoms can be powerful experiences. Find out what they are and how to stop them.
- How to stop an anxiety attack and panic.
- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to overcome it.
Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions section.
1. Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, May 2018.
2. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.
3. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.
4. Kinlein, Scott A., et al. “Dysregulated Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal Axis Function Contributes to Altered Endocrine and Neurobehavioral Responses to Acute Stress.” Frontiers In Psychiatry, 13 Mar. 2015.
5. StokstadDec, Erik, et al. “Stress May Keep Neurons Down.” Science | AAAS, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 11 Dec. 2017.
6. Chang, L. et al. “Dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in irritable bowel syndrome.” Center for Neurobiology of Stress, 22 Jan. 2009.
7. Mayville, Erik. "Psychotropic Medication Effects and Side Effects." International Review of Research in Mental Retardation, 2007.
8. “Mental Health Medications.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019.
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