Why is it all about the physical?

I had a little convo with a fellow anxious mind over on Instagram the other day about the differences in anxiety symptoms, and I really wanted to talk to you guys about it.

Since starting My Anxious Life, I’ve shared my stories and read so many others, and we’re all really starting to understand the huge scale of mental health concerns and the varying ways in which they manifest themselves. People have said “wow, I didn’t even know that was a thing”, right through to “I have suffered for years with X and had no idea exactly what it was until I read your blog”.

It’s so important to me to keep talking and to keep reminding ourselves that there is a huge spectrum, absolutely no one size fits all, no singular hat that we all wear.

And this is especially true with anxiety. It’s a topic that’s on the rise, partly because so many people are affected in one way or another. But I would also say partly because it’s seen as a more accessible subject, less intimidating and unfathomable than its dark and scary sibling ‘depression’. (Which isn’t true, but that’s a topic for another day).

From comments made in passing by friends, articles in the media or their own experiences, I think quite a few people think they know the key symptoms of anxiety.

But what they know are often the physical ones, that seem to be more openly talked about: nausea, stomach aches and repeated bowel movements, the need to urinate, palpitations, sweating, dizziness, short and rapid breath, headaches, insomnia, panic attacks…

Obviously I’m not disputing these symptoms. They’re common, evidence-based and I’ve experienced many of them over the years. But my point is – we are all different, and our experiences are too.

An anxiety attack doesn’t necessarily see us all dripping in sweat as we rock in the corner. In reality, our anxiety will take the form of an elaborate pick n mix of symptoms, with a lot more going on below the surface than is appreciated.

I get so frustrated that physical outputs are often the only things discussed openly (even in medical environments). Even in the exploration and understanding of mental health, physicality is all people seem to be able to understand.

Whilst I do experience physical symptoms – most commonly for me being huge and disproportionate adrenaline rushes, the compulsive belief I need to wee, short breath and disassociation – for me personally, the majority of my anxiety symptoms are mental. Over-thinking, spiralling thoughts, imagined scenarios, overwhelming emotion, (unachievable) perfection-seeking, self-punishment and others.

And these kinds of symptoms are rarely talked about, nor understood in the context of their relationship with anxiety.

Because of this, people who experience anxiety in a different way to a standard NHS pamphlet feel confused and isolated, and it may lead them to start questioning the validity of their feelings and experiences. Are they just ‘over-reacting’, ‘moody’…. ‘mad’?? They may have to fight harder for a diagnosis, or to gain access to the help and resources they so desperately need. They may find themselves lower down some kind of “mental health hierarchy” because their symptoms are not always obvious and external.

To the person who suffers a very visible and terrifying panic attack, I recognise your struggle. And to the person who suffers an inner turmoil so deep and terrifying, but their friend can only see a slight increase in toilet trips when out to dinner, I recognise your struggle too. Your anxiety is not less than. You are also in pain, and you are equal.

It’s yet another reason that I keep shouting about talking.

  • You help others to know they’re not alone – through talking.
  • You educate – through talking.
  • You facilitate change – through talking.
  • You support loved ones – through talking.

And we make this a normal conversation – through talking.


20 thoughts on “Why is it all about the physical?

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    1. Absolutely. I still have a tendency to clam up when I’m really low, but always recognise afterwards how much better I feel when I talk about it!

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  1. I am totally in love with what you’re doing with your blog. It’s so important to talk about these things, and you provide such thought-provoking insight. I feel kind of stupid that I didn’t realise all this stuff might be going on in someone’s head, until I started reading blogs like yours. So like you say, keep talking to spread the understanding. Your words are so important. Xx

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  2. I experience what they call “intrusive thoughts” where the worst possible situation, or dangerous option flashes in my mind and it can’t be gotten rid of. A very troubling thing that I find when you talk to people about it they shy away and give you a “well you’re mental” looks!

    It’s so very important to feel like you can talk about the darker and psychological aspects!

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  3. We definitely need to keep having these conversations. I didn’t realise I had anxiety until I saw mums talking about it on Instagram and I realised that they were describing how I felt! My anxiety doesn’t really manifest in a physical way its much more the internal symptoms you mentioned.

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    1. Exactly! I’ve heard similar stories from so many people. It would help massively to see some mental health education in schools too, instead of just physical health, so that people don’t have to live for years thinking they’re crazy before stumbling across explanations and answers totally at random!

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  4. My anxiety manifests as rage, it took me a long time to realise that anxiety was the cause of my anger.

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    1. That’s really interesting. When people talk about frustration, irritability and anger, anxiety is often way down the list of possible causes, despite these emotions being common in anxious people. We definitely need to understand more about the interplay between all of the mental and physical factors.

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  5. Interesting thoughts. I have a few relatives with mental disorders and I would like to try to understand them. This may help put things into perspective.

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    1. Have a look at my other posts too, I talk about a variety of issues and I definitely think they can give you some good insights. But I wouldn’t worry too much about trying to fully understand – being open, non-judgemental and compassionate are some of the best ways you can support loved ones who might be struggling 🙂

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    1. Thank you Sharon. It’s amazing how many people suffer in silence and how little people know and understand about very common issues. So I’m putting my head above the parapet…..!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I’m always interested in collaborating and getting the message out there – if you go to the contacts page you can drop me an email 🙂

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  6. I can absolutely relate to this. I did not realise that I had anxiety. Literally thought it was all about panic attacks – a course in CBT showed me that anxiety can manifest in so many other ways.

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    1. It’s amazing that CBT helped you to understand your anxiety and how it plays out for you! It’s so crazy though that this resource is needed just to help people realise what they are experiencing!! We really need more education, understanding and open conversations so that we are all better equipped for our journeys.

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  7. Posts like this are so important, people do need to be educated about anxiety and how it feels.

    I know for me it was this constant pain, as if something was stuck in my windpipe, I was too scared to swallow in case it fell in to my body but of course I knew nothing was there.

    Hope you’ve all recovered from your sick beds x

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  8. My anxiety is very much mental and some physical.
    I clench my stomach when my anxiety ramps up. But for the most part it’s overthinking, imagined scenarios, etc. So I get this.
    Great post. It’s so valuable to know that there’s a range of symptoms, even less common ones.

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