Are Anxiety Symptoms All In My Head?

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated October 21, 2021

are anxiety symptoms all in my head

Are Anxiety Symptoms All In My Head?

Question:

A good friend of mine said all 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 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.

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Anxiety sensations and symptoms are real

Anxious behavior activates the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body's ability to deal with a threat - to either fight or flee - which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Some of the stress response changes include:

And so on.

Due to the many physiological, psychological, emotional changes, we can experience many sensations associated with these changes, which we call “anxiety symptoms.” 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, these changes end and so do the sensations associated with these changes.

Acute anxiety creates acute sensations.

Hyperstimulation can cause similar changes and sensations to that of an active stress response. However, since these changes and sensations are involuntary and unwanted, we call them "anxiety symptoms."

Symptoms is defined as: a physical or mental feature which is regarded as indicating a condition of an illness; the sign of an undesirable situation.

Even though anxiety symptoms are caused by an involuntary action, they are still 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 disorder symptoms article.

Recovery Support members can visit Chapter 9, our comprehensive symptoms section where every symptom is listed and explained.

So, yes! Anxiety symptoms are REAL. They aren't imagined.

Even though there most often isn’t visible physical evidence for many of anxiety’s 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, it’s hard to believe being anxious can cause so many disturbing symptoms, with many being usual, intense, and severely debilitating.

However, people who experience anxiety disorder can attest that their 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 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 symptoms are real and caused by real physiological, psychological, and emotional changes.

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Psychosomatic Symptoms (imagined “symptoms”)

In addition to our real symptoms, we can also imagine some. For instance, when we become inward focused on and concerned about our symptoms, our imagination can “misinterpret” normal body sensations as abnormal symptoms.

However, this generally resolves as we recover from anxiety disorder and become outward-focused again. this is an aspect to consider for a least a small portion of our struggle with anxiety disorder and its symptoms.

If you notice yourself focusing internally, you can make healthy change by discerning actual 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 disorder and its symptoms is with the combination of good self-help information and professional therapy.

If you are struggling with what can seem like unmanageable and out-of-control anxiety and worry, working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist can help you on the road to recovery.

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?