“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

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: February 9, 2021


feel ill and sick anxiety symptoms

Feeling ill and sick but can’t describe it is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including Anxiety Attacks, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, and others.

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

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to your symptoms, including feeling ill and sick without being medically sick.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and the feel ill and sick anxiety symptom.

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 something is physically wrong, but you have a hard time describing 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 feel “off,” wrong, or like there is something physically wrong, yet you aren’t sick, don’t have the flu, and 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 you aren’t sure what or how to describe it.
  • You feel sickly inside as if there is something wrong, but you 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.
  • You have aches and pains like the flu would cause, but you don’t have the flu.
  • You feel worn out and sickly, but you don’t have the flu or a cold.
  • Your body can feel sickly and achy, but you aren’t sick or have anything medically wrong.
  • You feel weak, tired, kind of achy and sore, have the chills or sweats, and feel feverish, yet you don’t have the flu.

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

This feel ill and sick symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you 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 can 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 symptom can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background to your struggle with anxiety disorder.

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.

Feeling ill and sick can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.



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

Medical Advisory

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. Here are several reasons why:

1. The stress response

Anxiety activates the stress response. The changes caused by the stress response can make the body feel ill.[1][2]

For instance, anxious behavior activates the stress response, causing body-wide changes that give the body an emergency “boost” of energy when we believe we could be in danger.

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

Visit our “Stress response” article for more information about the many changes and how they affect the body.

Some of these changes include:

  • Increases blood sugar so we have an instant boost of energy.
  • Stimulates the nervous system so that it is more sensitive and reactive to danger.
  • Heightens most of the body’s senses.
  • Shunts blood to parts of the body more vital to survival, such as the brain, arms, legs, and vital organs, and away from parts of the body less vital for survival, such as the stomach, digestive system, and skin.
  • Tightens the body’s muscles so that they are more resilient to harm.

To name a few.

Many of these stress response changes can make a person feel ill, such as muscle aches and pains, lightheadedness, queasy stomach, hot and cold sweats, and a general malaise feeling.

Often, the sick feeling isn’t related to any one symptom, but an overall feeling like there is something physically or medically wrong that you can’t describe or put your finger on.

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

2. Hyperstimulation

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

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t complete recovery.

Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are 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 changes caused by hyperstimulation.

Hyperstimulation can cause changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.

As long as the body is hyperstimulated, it can produce symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time, including making you feel like you are sick.

3. Homeostatic dysregulation

Homoeostasis is the term used to describe the ongoing, automatic process[5] of regulating and maintaining the body’s internal balance, despite the ever-changing conditions.

When the body is healthy, homeostasis does a good job of keeping the body working smoothly. However, hyperstimulation can create a state of dyshomeostasis or cacostasis,[6][7] which we call Homeostatic Dysregulation.

Homeostatic dysregulation can cause regulatory problems, resulting in erratic swings in feelings, sensations, and symptoms, and for no apparent reason.

For example, the body might errantly:

  • Increase blood sugar or reduce it too much.
  • Increase heart rate for no reason.
  • Increase blood pressure or decrease it too much.
  • Increase perspiration.
  • Increase or decrease body temperature for no reason.
  • Call for a stress response when one isn’t required.

And so on.

As long as the body is hyperstimulated, it can cause problems with homeostasis. Many “out of the blue” anxiety symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation-caused homeostatic dysregulation.

Homeostatic dysregulation is a common cause of feeling ill when you aren’t medically sick.

4. Nervous system dysregulation

Just as hyperstimulation can cause problems with homeostasis, it can also cause nervous system irregularities.

These irregularities can cause many sensory, muscle movement, and system problems, which can cause a feeling like you are sick even though you aren’t medically ill.

Recovery Support members can read more about this in chapters 3, 14, and 18.

5. Stress can drain the body’s energy resources quickly

Stress responses, which stress the body, can drain the body’s energy resources quickly due to the rapid mobilization of energy.[2]

When the body is chronically stressed, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it can fatigue quickly.

Fatigue is a common cause of feeling ill even though there isn’t a medical illness.

6. Suppressed immune system

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, suppresses the body’s immune system,[3] making it 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 the person doesn’t have full-blown flu.

Chronic stress hampers the body’s ability to keep itself healthy. Therefore, it can cause persistent symptoms, including those that make a person feel ill.

I (Jim Folk) had this symptom, too, and a lot when I struggled with anxiety disorder. I know how unsettling it can be.

But this symptom isn’t harmful and isn’t an indication of a real medical problem. Therefore, it needn’t be a cause for concern.

7. Other factors

Associated with anxiety, there are other factors that can cause and contribute to this symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.



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How to get rid of the anxiety symptom feeling ill or sick?

When feeling ill and sick symptoms are caused by other factors, addressing the cause should alleviate the symptoms.

When feel ill and sick anxiety symptoms are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, as the anxious and stress response changes come to an end, this anxiety symptom should subside.

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

When feel ill and sick anxiety symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it can take much longer for the body to recover, and to the point where this anxiety symptom subsides.

Furthermore, it’s common for hyperstimulation to cause multiple types of feeling sick, such as upset stomach, aches and pains, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, feeling cold and chilled, hot flashes, fatigue, and diarrhea, to name a few.

Reducing stress, increasing rest, getting regular good sleep, regular deep relaxation, regular mild to moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet, and containing anxious behavior can help reduce and eventually eliminate hyperstimulation and its symptoms, including feeling ill and sick when you aren’t medically sick.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, symptoms of hyperstimulation subside, including this one.

Nevertheless, when the body has recovered from hyperstimulation, the feel ill and sick anxiety symptom will subside.

Therefore, again, anxiety feeling sick or ill symptoms needn’t be a cause for concern.

The Recovery Support area has more information about how to get rid of anxiety symptoms, including feeling ill and sick.

The Recovery Support area of our website has a great deal of in-depth self-help information.

We explain important recovery concepts in the Recovery Support area, such as:

  • Containment
  • Passive acceptance
  • The challenges of overcoming chronic anxiety and its symptoms
  • How to extinguish fears,
  • How to overcome stubborn symptoms and fears
  • How to overcome panic disorder,
  • How to overcome a fear of anxiety,
  • How to deal with anxiety sleep-related problems, and
  • a host of other important anxiety disorder recovery concepts, tips, and strategies.

You can sign up for a Recovery Support membership by clicking on the icon below.

 

 

Therapy

If you are having difficulty with anxiety, what seems like uncontrollable worry, fearing or eliminating your anxiety symptoms, or fears that seem to be controlling your life, we recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome issues with anxiety, hyperstimulation, and their symptoms.[8][9][10][11][12]




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 Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including feel ill and sick anxiety symptoms.


REFERENCES:

1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2020.

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

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

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. Cannon WB. Organization for physiological homeostasis. Physiol Rev. 1929a;9:399–431.

6. Marks, David. "Dyshomeostasis, obesity, addiction and chronic stress." Health Psychology Open, Jan 2016.

7. Nicolaides, Nicolas, et al. "Stress, the stress system and the role of glucocorticoids." Neuroimmunomodulation, 2015.

8. 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.

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

10. Thompson, Ryan Baird, "Psychology at a Distance: Examining the Efficacy of Online Therapy" (2016). University Honors Theses. Paper 285.

11. Kingston, Dawn.“Advantages of E-Therapy Over Conventional Therapy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Dec. 2017.

12. 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.