“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

Can you have symptoms of anxiety without feeling anxious?

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: June 25, 2019


Yes, you can have symptoms of anxiety without feeling anxious. Five of the most common reasons include:

  • You may not be aware you are an anxious person.
  • You may not be aware of some of the behaviors that create anxiety and symptoms.
  • Effects of chronic stress.
  • Other sources of stress can create anxiety-like symptoms.
  • Side effects of medication can mimic anxiety symptoms.

Symptoms of anxiety without feeling anxious

There are many reasons why a person can have anxiety symptoms yet not feel anxious. Here are the five most common reasons for having symptoms of anxiety without feeling anxious:

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 are, 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 classified as an anxiety disorder.


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2. You may not be aware of some of the behaviors that create anxiety and symptoms

Behaving anxiously activates the stress response, which prepares the body for emergency action – to either fight or flee.[1] These emergency changes stress the body and produce symptoms of these changes. Therefore, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress.

Every time we behave anxiously, the body is going to be stressed. The degree of stress is proportional to the degree of apprehensive behavior.

For instance, if you are only slightly nervous, your body will experience a slight increase in stress. But if you are terrified, your body will experience high degree stress. Again, there are no freebies, meaning the body experiences stress EVERY TIME we are anxious.

Even though some people are aware they are anxious, they might not be aware of some of the behaviors that create anxiety and symptoms. For instance, most people are aware that worry is an example of anxious behavior. But many people aren’t aware that being a perfectionist, people-pleaser, or having unrealistic expectations are also anxiety-producing behaviors.

If you aren’t aware of all of your anxious behaviors, it might seem like your symptoms are occurring for no reason.

3. Chronic stress (hyperstimulation)

Chronic stress is another reason why you can have symptoms of anxiety without feeling anxious in that moment.

As we previously mentioned, apprehensive behavior stresses the body and creates symptoms that we experience as anxiety symptoms. When we are anxious only once and a while, the body can recover relatively quickly from the effects of the stress response. But when we’re anxious often or persistently, the body has more difficulty completing recovery.

Incomplete recovery can leave the body in a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call stress-response hyperstimulation since stress hormones are stimulants. A body that becomes hyperstimulated can exhibit similar symptoms to that of an active stress response even though the body hasn’t experienced an active stress response.[2][3]

Remember, 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 and symptomatic.

When the body becomes chronically stressed, it can exhibit symptoms of stress even though you aren’t anxious at that moment. These symptoms of chronic stress can mimic anxiety symptoms.

The adverse effects of chronic 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.[4] This is why even though an anxious period has passed, we can still experience lingering symptoms long after.

We explain hyperstimulation, its symptoms, how to recover from hyperstimulation, and how long it can take in the Recovery Support area of our website.

4. Other sources of stress can create anxiety-like symptoms

Anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. So any source of stress can create anxiety-like symptoms.[5]

For example, rigorous physical exertion, such as hard physical labor, stresses the body. If you have worked hard or for too long, your body can experience symptoms of stress even though you weren’t anxious. Persistent loud noises, frustrating circumstances, being too hot or cold, rigorous exercise, sleep deprivation, heavy cognitive load, and even being at an exciting event all stress the body, which can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Consequently, even though you weren’t anxious, other sources of stress can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

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

5. Side effects of medication can mimic anxiety symptoms

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.[6][7] 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.

These are just five of the many reasons why we can experience anxiety symptoms when we don’t “feel” anxious.

The good news is that experiencing anxiety-like symptoms when you don’t feel anxious is a common sentiment among anxiety disorder sufferers. Addressing the specific reason can eliminate these types of symptoms.

For more information, Recovery Support members can read the following articles:

  • Hyperstimulation And Its Effects (in chapter 14)
  • Two Levels of Recovery (in chapter 14)
  • Recovery Expectations (in chapter 10)

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 Frequent Questions section.


REFERENCES:

1. Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response.” Harvard Health, May 2018.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. StokstadDec, Erik, et al. “Stress May Keep Neurons Down.Science | AAAS, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 11 Dec. 2017.

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

6. Mayville, Erik. "Psychotropic Medication Effects and Side Effects." International Review of Research in Mental Retardation, 2007.

7. “Mental Health Medications.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019.