Why do I have anxiety symptoms when I don’t feel anxious?
Play the video below to watch Jim Folk's answer to this frequently asked anxiety question. Or, you can read the video transcript below the video.
Video Transcript here
Having anxiety symptoms when you don't feel anxious is a common anxiety disorder experience. Many anxiety disorder sufferers have had symptoms when they don’t feel anxious and have asked the same question.
There are many good reasons why anxiety can cause symptoms when you don’t feel anxious. Knowing these reasons can help you understand anxiety disorder more completely and help you get rid of your anxiety symptoms.
However, before we begin:
We recommend discussing all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.
If you've done that and your doctor has attributed your symptoms solely to anxiety or stress, you can be confident there isn't a medical or medication cause.
If your symptoms have been solely attributed to anxiety or stress, there are several reasons why you can have anxiety symptoms when you don’t feel anxious.
But before we get to those reasons…
What are anxiety symptoms?
Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response.
The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream, where they travel to targeted locations to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that give the body an emergency boost of energy and resources to help us when we believe we could be in danger – to either fight or flee.
This survival reaction is often referred to as the stress response, fight or flight response, fight, flight, or freeze response (since some people freeze like a deer caught in headlines when they are afraid), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).
Since these survival changes push the body beyond its balance point, stress responses stress the body. A body that becomes stressed can exhibit symptoms of stress.
As such, anxiety stresses the body.
Therefore, anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. They are called anxiety symptoms because anxious behavior is the main source of the stress that stresses the body, and a body that’s under stress can produce symptoms.
With that in mind, here are the main reasons why we can have anxiety symptoms when we don’t feel 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 anxious.
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 being anxious and that your anxious behaviors are causing your physical symptoms.
When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly. However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t completely recover.
Incomplete recovery can leave the body in a state of semi-stress response readiness, which we call hyperstimulation since stress hormones are stimulants.
A body that becomes hyperstimulated can experience symptoms of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.
Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many changes caused by hyperstimulation.
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 hyperstimulated (chronically stressed) and symptomatic.
Hyperstimulation is one of the most common reasons why you can have anxiety symptoms even when you don’t feel anxious.
It can take a long time to recover from hyperstimulation.
Once the body becomes hyperstimulated, it can take a long time to recover and much longer than most people realize.
That’s because the effects of stress can last a very long time. Research has found that it can take up to four times longer to recover from the effects of stress than it did to become stressed.
Even though you might not feel anxious at that moment, you can have symptoms because your body is still recovering from hyperstimulation.
As long as the body is hyperstimulated, it can exhibit symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time.
As long as the body is hyperstimulated (chronically stressed), even to a slight degree, it can exhibit symptoms.
Again, hyperstimulation is one of the main reasons you can have anxiety symptoms even though you don’t feel anxious at that time.
3. Your stress is elevated even though it “feels” normal.
Since anxiety stresses the body, anxious people typically live stressful lives.
Consequently, the level of stress they feel can seem “normal” even though it is elevated above the normal range.
Constantly living with elevated stress that “feels” normal is another common cause of symptoms even though you might not be feeling anxious at that moment.
4. Other sources of stress may be causing your symptoms.
Since anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress, other sources of stress could be causing your symptoms even though you don’t feel anxious.
For example, rigorous physical exertion, such as hard physical work or strenuous exercise, stresses the body. If you have worked hard or too long, your body can produce 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
- Being at an exciting event
- Chronic pain
Are all examples of stressors that stress the body. That stress can create anxiety-like symptoms…and long after the stressful situation or circumstance has ended.
As such, even though you don’t feel anxious, other sources of stress could be contributing to hyperstimulation and its symptoms.
5. Many anxious people are unaware of the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety.
Anxiety is created by underlying factors: those behaviors, situations, and circumstances that cause issues with anxiety. These factors are often set up at an early age.
When a person behaves anxiously from an early age, their overly anxious behavior and the stress it creates can seem “normal” as an adult.
But again, as long as the body is overly stressed, even to a slight degree, it can exhibit symptoms.
If you have symptoms, your body is stressed even though you might think your behavior and stress are normal.
6. 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 might be causing anxiety-like side effects, talk with your doctor and pharmacist about reducing the dosage, switching to a different medication, or discontinuing your medication if that’s an option for you.
7. Other factors.
Other factors can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including recreational drugs, stimulants, sleep deprivation, fatigue, hyperventilation and hypoventilation, low blood sugar, nutritional deficiency, dehydration, and hormone changes.
Select any of the links for more information.
How To Get Rid Of Anxiety Symptoms When You Don’t Feel Anxious
If your symptoms are caused by any of the other factors we mentioned, such as recreational drugs or stimulants, addressing the specific cause should eliminate those symptoms.
Learning about anxious behavior and the many ways it can be created can alert you to anxious behavior you might not be aware of. Then, when symptoms appear, you can assess your behaviors to see if they are creating anxiety.
If your symptoms are being caused by hyperstimulation, eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate its symptoms.
Keep in mind that it can take a long time to recover from hyperstimulation. In the meantime, you’ll likely continue to experience symptoms...and even though you aren’t feeling anxious at that moment.
As long as the body is hyperstimulated, even to a slight degree, it can produce symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time.
Reducing stress and resting the nervous system are the best ways to reduce and eventually eliminate hyperstimulation and its symptoms.
In many cases, you’ll also need to address your anxious behavior if you want to reduce your stress, since anxiety stresses the body. Unresolved anxiety issues are a primary cause of chronic stress (hyperstimulation).
Consequently, it’s difficult to eliminate hyperstimulation if your anxious behaviors are still creating stress.
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.
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 in the Recovery Support area.
These are just a few of the many reasons we can experience anxiety and anxiety-like symptoms when we don’t “feel” anxious.
When I 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 stress WAS the cause. I didn’t realize it at the time because I had grown so used to my overly apprehensive approach to life and the high level of stress it produced, they seemed NORMAL to me. I thought everyone lived that way.
So, I completely understand this problem.
If you have anxiety symptoms when you don’t feel anxious or have a difficult time with worry, I highly recommend connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.
Again, working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms.
Overcoming anxiety disorder eliminates having anxiety symptoms when you don’t feel anxious.
You can have anxiety symptoms when you don’t feel anxious because:
- You’re behaving anxiously and don’t realize it.
- Your body has become hyperstimulated.
- Your stress is elevated even though the level of stress you are used to “feels” normal.
- Other sources of stress are causing your symptoms, since anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress.
- You aren’t aware of the underlying factors that are causing your issues with anxiety.
- Your symptoms are being caused by the side effects of a medication you are taking.
- You have other factors causing your anxiety-like symptoms.
Identifying and successfully addressing the cause will eliminate your symptoms when you aren’t anxious.
Common Anxiety Symptoms
- 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 Frequently Asked Questions page.
anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including having anxiety symptoms when not anxious.
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.