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Feel ill; sick; feel like there is something physically wrong but can’t describe it

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: October 12, 2019


Common descriptions for the anxiety symptom feel ill and sick:

  • All of a sudden, you feel like you are sick yet you don’t have the flu.
  • You feel ill yet you aren’t sick.
  • You feel like there is something physically wrong but you can’t quite describe how you feel.
  • You feel like there is something wrong with your body but you don’t know what it is or how to describe how you feel.
  • You just feel ‘off,’ wrong, or like there is something physically wrong yet you aren’t sick, don’t have the flu, or there isn’t anything medically wrong.
  • You feel ill but aren’t sure why, what’s causing it, or even how to describe how you feel since it isn’t flu-like.
  • You feel like there is something wrong with you but not sure what or how to describe it.
  • You feel sickly inside as if there is something wrong, but can’t describe the feeling only that you feel ‘sick’ somehow.
  • You have an overall feeling like there is something physically wrong but can’t describe it or put your finger on what’s actually wrong.

This feel ill and sick symptom can affect one area of the body only, can shift and affect another area or areas of the body, can migrate all over and affect many areas of the body over and over again, and can affect the entire body persistently.

This feel ill and sick symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel ill or sick once in a while and not that often, feel ill off and on, or feel ill and sick all the time.

This feel ill and sick symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

This feel ill and sick symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

This feel ill and sick symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

This feel ill and sick symptom can change from day to day, hour to hour, and/or from moment to moment.

It’s common for this feel ill and sick symptom to come on suddenly, and for no apparent reason. It's also common for this symptom to disappear after resting, a nap, or a good sleep. It’s also common to experience a feeling sick and ill episode and then feel fine a little while later.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Why anxiety can make you feel ill and sick yet can’t describe how you feel.

There are many reasons why anxiety can make you feel ill and sick even though you don’t have the flu or a medical condition causing it. Three of the most common reasons include:

1. Stress response

Apprehensive behavior (worried, fretful, fearful) causes the body to activate the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they 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 the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.[1][2]

Many of the changes the stress response brings about can make a person feel ill, such as feeling muscle aches and pains, lightheadedness, queasy stomach, hot and cold sweats, and a general ‘uncomfortable’ and malaise feeling. Often, the sick feeling isn’t related to any one symptom, but an overall feeling like there is something physically wrong but can’t describe it or put your finger on what’s actually wrong.

All of the changes caused by the stress response, while important for survival, can make the body feel ill especially when the stress responses are in the moderate to high degree range.

2. Hyperstimulation taxes the body’s resources harder than normal

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, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can cause it to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants (also often referred to as "hyperarousal").[3][4]

Hyperstimulation stresses the body, which can cause it to use its energy resources faster than normal. A reduction in energy can make a person feel ill and "flu-like."

3. Hyperstimulation suppresses the body’s immune system

A suppressed immune system can make the body more vulnerable to biological intruders.

As stress increases, the body’s ability to fend off intruders, such as flu bugs (viruses) and infection (bacteria), diminishes. As long as stress remains elevated, the body can struggle with health issues. These health issues can cause a person to feel ill, sick, or sickly even though she doesn’t have a flown-blown flu.

Hyperstimulation hampers the body’s ability to keep itself healthy, which can cause chronic symptoms, including those that make a person feel ill.

How to get rid of anxiety caused feeling ill or sick?

When feeling ill and sick is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this ill and sick feeling should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that 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 feeling ill or sick is caused by persistently elevated stress, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered, the feel ill and sick symptom will completely disappear. Therefore, anxiety feeling sick or ill symptoms needn’t be a cause for concern.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about the feel ill symptoms. Again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or its overly stressed state, feeling ill or sick will completely disappear.

For a more detailed explanation about common anxiety symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.



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 Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including the anxiety symptom feel ill and sick.


REFERENCES:

1. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

2. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.” anxietycentre.com, August 2019.

3. Hannibal, Kara E., and Mark D. Bishop. “Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014.

4. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 2015.