Are Anxiety Symptoms All In My Head

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated March 27, 2021

Are Anxiety Symptoms All In My Head?

Complete Question

A good friend of mine said all of my symptoms are “all in my head” and not real. He made it sound as if I’m making all these symptoms up and just imagining them. This made me feel really bad. Are anxiety symptoms “just in my head?”

Answer

Almost all anxiety sensations and symptoms are real physiological, psychological, and emotional sensations and symptoms caused by real physiological, psychological, and emotional reasons. Few are psychosomatic (imagined).

For more information about the difference between anxiety sensations and anxiety symptoms, Recovery Support members can read the article “Understanding and Eliminating Anxiety Sensations and Symptoms” in Chapter 6.

Anxiety sensations and symptoms are real

Behaving anxiously activates the stress response. The stress response immediately secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to 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.

Due to the many physiological, psychological, emotional changes the stress response brings about, we will experience the sensations associated with them. Since these changes are real, we will experience them as being real and not imagined.

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. As the stress response ends and these changes end, so will the sensations associated them.

When stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a state of semi emergency readiness. We call this state stress-response hyperstimulation, since stress hormones are stimulants. A body that becomes stress-response hyperstimulated can exhibit similar sensations and symptoms to that of an active stress response. We call these lingering sensations anxiety symptoms. In this regard, they are also real and not imagined.

Recovery Support members can read more about these concepts in Chapters 3, 5, 6, and 9.

For more information about anxiety sensations and symptoms and what causes them, visit our anxiety symptoms and signs page. Recovery Support members can visit Chapter 9, our comprehensive symptoms section where every symptom is listed and explained.

So, yes! Anxiety-caused sensations and symptoms are REAL. They aren't imagined.

Even though there most often isn’t visible physical evidence for many of anxiety’s sensations and symptoms, they are real and caused by real reasons. Again, they aren’t imagined!

I (Jim Folk) understand why some people think anxiety sensations and symptoms are “all in a person’s head.” Many people said the same thing to me when I was struggling with anxiety disorder those many years ago. I believe that unless a person experiences anxiety disorder for himself, it’s hard to believe being anxious can cause so many disturbing sensations and symptoms, with many being usual, intense, and severely debilitating.

People who experience anxiety disorder, however, can attest that their sensations and symptoms ARE real and not imagined.

When people say you are imagining your symptoms, extend them some grace. Their comments are likely based on a lack of understanding about anxiety and the many real physiological, psychological, and emotional ramifications. As you learn more about anxiety and why it can cause so many sensations and symptoms, you may be able to educate them so that their comments are more helpful and appropriate in the future.

Again, the vast majority of anxiety-caused sensations and symptoms are real and caused by real physiological, psychological, and emotional changes.

Psychosomatic symptoms

With regard to the psychosomatic, if we become inward focused on and concerned about our sensations and symptoms, we can use our imagination and “misinterpret” normal body sensations as abnormal symptoms. This, however, generally resolves itself as we make progress and become outward focused again. But this is an aspect to consider, for a least a small part of our struggle with anxiety sensations and symptoms.

If you notice yourself focusing internally, you can make healthy change by discerning actual sensations and symptoms of stress from those caused by normal bodily functions.

Recovery Support members can read more about the phenomenon Inward Focused Thinking, how it can affect anxiety recovery, and how to overcome it in Chapter 6.

For almost the entirety, anxiety sensations and symptoms are real. They have real physiological, psychological, and emotional causes.

The most effective way to overcome anxiety unwellness and its many sensations and symptoms is with the combination of good self-help information and anxiety therapy, coaching, and counseling.

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 Articles page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including the anxiety question: Are Anxiety Symptoms All In My Head?