Anxiety And Feeling Heavy

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated March 30, 2022

feel heavy

Feeling heavy, like you are made of lead or that gravity is making you feel heavier than normal is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and others.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and feeling heavy symptoms.

Symptoms

  • It feels like your body is much heavier than normal even though you’ve not gained weight.
  • It feels like gravity is stronger and pulling your body down.
  • You notice that when you are standing or walking, it feels like you are being pushed down harder on the surface than normal.
  • It can also feel like your body is made of lead and feels much heavier than normal.
  • Some people describe it as like having their body filled with wet, heavy sand, making the body feel much heavier than normal.

This heavy feeling can affect the entire body or parts, such as an arm, hand, leg, foot, or other part or parts.

This symptom can also change from the entire body to one part or parts, or from one part to another part and back again, and so on.

This symptom can:

  • Occur occasionally, frequently, or persistently.
  • Precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.
  • Precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no reason.
  • Range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe.
  • Come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
  • Change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background during your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

This symptom can seem more noticeable when undistracted, resting, trying to sleep, or when waking up.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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Causes

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Additional Medical Advisory Information.

1. The Stress Response

Anxious behavior activates the body’s 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 or flee.

This survival reaction is the reason why the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).[1][2]

The stress response causes many body-wide changes, including sensory perception – heightens some senses and decreases others.

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

An emergency response-caused change in sensory perception can cause any of the symptoms we mentioned above. As long as the stress response is active, we can experience a change in our sensory perception, including how the body feels.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can quickly recover from the many stress response changes.

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body doesn’t completely recover, creating a state of semi-stress response readiness we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. Chronic hyperstimulation can cause chronic sensory perception symptoms. Here’s why:

The body is an incredibly designed machine. It has many systems that “check and balance” each other as a way of keeping itself functioning normally and optimally. Many of these systems also provide the basis for how we experience life and the world around us. The body’s Sensory Systems are an example.

senses

The Sensory Systems are responsible for the reception of sensory information from outside, on, and inside that body that are then transmitted to the brain for processing.

A sensory system, which is a part of the nervous system, consists of sensory receptors, neural pathways, and parts of the brain involved in processing sensory information. Commonly recognized sensory systems include vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and balance.

For example, when something touches the skin, nerve endings on the skin send nerve impulse information through the nervous system network via neurons (nerve cells that have an electrochemical property) to the brain for processing.

This transfer of nerve impulse information can happen in the blink of an eye – some kinds of nerve impulses can travel at an incredible speed of 250 miles per hour. The moment something touches the skin, we detect it and can process what to do with that information…such as quickly pull away or relax and enjoy the sensation.

When the body is healthy, not overly stressed, and working normally, the body's sensory systems perform normally and provide us with normal sensory information - sight, sound, touch, taste, smells, and balance. But this can change when the body is chronically stressed, such as from overly apprehensive behavior that chronically activates the stress response.

As mentioned, stress responses affect our senses in dramatic ways. Two include:

  1. Heightens some senses (reception, transmission, and processing of sensory information) so that we can perceive and react to our environment more readily while suppressing others (such as narrowing vision and reducing hearing).
  1. Increases neuronal activity in certain parts of the nervous system so that we can respond to our environment quickly – such as to either fight or flee.

When stress responses are triggered infrequently, we generally don’t notice these changes. Moreover, because the changes are often sudden and end quickly, they don’t overly tax the sensory systems so they can quickly return to normal functioning.

However, when the body becomes chronically stressed (hyperstimulated), the body’s sensory systems can become distressed. Distressed sensory systems can cause all sorts of anomalies that affect one, many, or all our senses and how the brain processes them. The more hyperstimulated the body becomes, the more effect it has on sensory perception.

Hyperstimulation can uniquely affect each person since each body is somewhat chemically unique. For example, one person might experience one or two sensory symptoms, whereas another might experience many of them from the same level of hyperstimulation.

Also, hyperstimulation has a dramatic effect on the body’s nervous system and neurons.

neuron anatomy

Neurons are particularly sensitive to stress hormone stimulation because of their electrochemical makeup (a combination of electricity and chemicals). When neurons become overly stimulated, they become excited, causing them to act erratically.

Erratically behaving neurons can cause the nervous system to “misreport” sensory information.[4][5] These abnormalities can cause many sensory perception anomalies, such as making the body feel heavier than it is.

Again, as hyperstimulation increases and persists, so can these types of symptoms increase and persist.

I (Jim Folk) had many, many sensory symptoms when I was struggling with anxiety disorder, including feeling like my body was heavy. Sometimes it was just one limb that felt unusually heavy, and other times it felt like my entire body was made of lead. I know how unsettling this feeling can be. But sensory symptoms aren’t harmful and needn’t be a cause for concern. They are just another indication of chronic stress.

While we don’t have to be alarmed about stress-caused symptoms, we do need to heed their warning and eliminate high levels of stress. Research has shown a strong correlation between chronic stress and the development of physical health problems over time.

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Other Factors

Other factors can create stress and cause anxiety-like symptoms, as well as aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

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Treatment

When this symptom is caused or aggravated by other factors, addressing those factors can reduce and eliminate it.

When this symptom is caused by anxious behavior and active stress response, ending the stress response will end its changes. This symptom should subside as your body recovers from the active stress response.

Keep in mind it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), eliminating hyperstimulation will end this anxiety symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Getting regular good sleep.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this one.

Symptoms of chronic stress subside as the body regains its normal, non-hyperstimulated health.

However, eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger longer than expected.

As long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated, it can present symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time, including this one.

Even so, since “Feeling unusually heavy” is a common symptom of stress, including anxiety-caused stress, it's harmless and needn't be a cause for concern. It will subside when unhealthy stress has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover and stabilize. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about it.

Anxiety symptoms often linger because:

  • The body is still being stressed (from stressful circumstances or anxious behavior).
  • Your stress hasn't diminished enough or for long enough.
  • Your body hasn't completed its recovery work.

Addressing the reason for lingering symptoms will allow the body to recover.

Most often, lingering anxiety symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN'T a sign of a medical problem. This is especially true if you have had your symptoms evaluated by your doctor, and they have been solely attributed to anxiety or stress.

Chronic anxiety symptoms subside when hyperstimulation is eliminated. As the body recovers and stabilizes, all chronic anxiety symptoms will slowly diminish and eventually disappear.

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms stress the body, these behaviors can interfere with recovery.

Passively accepting your symptoms – allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them – while doing your recovery work will cause their cessation in time.

Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

Since the body can take a long time to recover from hyperstimulation, it's best to faithfully work at your recovery despite the lack of apparent progress.

However, if you persevere with your recovery work, you will succeed.

You also have to do your recovery work FIRST before your body can recover. The cumulative effects of your recovery work will produce results down the road. And the body's stimulation has to diminish before symptoms can subside.

Eliminating hyperstimulation will bring results in time!

Remember: Focusing on your sensations and symptoms makes them more pronounced. If you'd like to lessen their impact, learn to focus your attention elsewhere through distraction, enjoying your hobbies, undertaking pleasing and calming activities, regular deep relaxation, and by recalling pleasant memories or experiences.

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Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors cause issues with anxiety. As such, they are the primary reason why anxiety symptoms persist.[6][7][8]

Addressing your underlying factors (Level Two recovery) is most important if you want lasting success.

Addressing Level Two recovery can help you:

  • Contain anxious behavior.
  • Become unafraid of anxiety symptoms and the strong feelings of anxiety.
  • End anxiety symptoms.
  • Successfully address the underlying factors that so often cause issues with anxiety.
  • End what can feel like out-of-control worry.

All our recommended anxiety therapists have had anxiety disorder and overcame it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder and their Master's Degree and above professional training gives them insight other therapists don't have.

If you want to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, any one of our recommended therapists would be a good choice.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to treat anxiety disorder, especially if you have persistent symptoms and difficulty containing anxious behavior, such as worry.

In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.

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FAQ

Can anxiety cause you to feel heavier than normal even though I haven’t gained weight?

Yes, anxiety can make you feel heavier than you normally feel. The stress caused by anxious behavior can affect the body’s sensory systems, creating all kinds of sensory perception symptoms, like feeling heavier than normal.

Can anxiety make you feel like gravity is pulling harder on you?

Yes, anxiety can make you feel like gravity is pulling harder on your body. The stress caused by anxious behavior can affect the body’s sensory systems, creating all kinds of sensory perception symptoms, like feeling heavier than normal.

Can anxiety make you feel like your body is made of lead?

Yes, anxiety can make you feel heavy like your body is made of lead. The stress caused by anxious behavior can affect the body’s sensory systems, creating all kinds of sensory perception symptoms, like feeling heavier than normal like your body is made of lead.

Is feeling heavier than you normally feel a sign of a serious neurological disorder?

Anxiety-caused feeling heavier than normal is a common symptom of anxiety. It’s not an indication of a serious neurological disorder. However, it’s best to discuss all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms with your doctor to ensure there isn’t another medical or medication cause.

Is feeling heavier than normal a sign of a serious mental illness?

Typically, no. Feeling heavier than normal is a common symptom of stress, including anxiety-caused stress. It subsides when you eliminate unhealthy stress. However, it’s best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor to ensure they are solely stress and anxiety related.

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Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, nearly 73 percent of respondents said they had sensory symptoms because of their anxiety.

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The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including feeling unusually heavy anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

6. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

7. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

8. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.