Anxiety – In Your Head?

In your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What’s in your head, in your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh

I was really saddened by the passing of The Cranberries’ lead singer Dolores O’Riordan. Zombies was the theme tune of my adolescence.

It’s totally iconic and on listening to it the day after news broke that she had passed away, I laughed (somewhat ironically) at just how much more the song now resonated with me. More and more I’m seeing songs and films in a new light.

Mental illness has a way of revealing as much about the world as it cloaks in times of internal crisis. Go figure.

It’s all in your head…or is it?

I’m none too ashamed to admit just how ignorant I was about anxiety before it sunk its claws in me.

I thought it was a mental health issue. Turns out, that’s not the whole story.

While anxiety may be a psychological disorder, it manifests in a variety of ways – including a whole laundry list of physical symptoms.

I thought I’d go through some of the more common symptoms that I experience on a regular basis. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives a pretty good insight into how anxiety can manifest in physical ways. For more information on symptoms of anxiety, I found the NHS website really useful.

Racing heart

You know in cartoons when a character falls in love and their heart is visibly beating out their chest? I feel like my heart is trying to do the same thing on a daily basis.

My most frequent symptom is a too-fast heartbeat. It’s uncomfortable, it triggers other physical symptoms and makes falling asleep incredibly difficult most nights. Heart palpitations can be really disconcerting, but when I’m calm enough, breathing exercises help to reduce the heaviness of each thud.

Insomnia or broken sleep

Anyone who knows me well will know how much I love my bed. My relationship with my duvet is sacred, if it doesn’t work out with Tam, I know that my second true love is ready and waiting. For me, not being able to sleep is one of the most frustrating parts of anxiety, and only feeds my anxiety further.

Trembling or shaking

This is one of the most disconcerting physical symptoms I experience. For me, this can be obvious shaking or it can be an internal trembling which is as unnerving as it sounds. The only way to describe it is that my chest, or sometimes my entire skeleton, feels like it’s vibrating.

It’s a horrible feeling and can make easy tasks like brushing my teeth, typing, or even just sitting still feel like a monumental effort.

Tension and muscle pains

I don’t think I realised just how tense my anxiety makes me until I started receiving monthly massages at work. Stuart is an absolute saviour for my poor back, neck and shoulders.

I have more knots in my shoulders than a game of Knots and Crosses. It’s painful, but the massages help.

As do regular baths to soothe my tense muscles.

Shortness of breath

When I’m in an anxiety spiral, it can be really difficult to catch my breath. Having asthma definitely doesn’t help. It’s another panic-induced symptom and it really sucks. I mean, all anxiety symptoms suck, but this one is particularly sucky. ASMR videos and guided meditation videos can be a quick fix, but other times it’s just a case of riding it out and reminding myself that it’ll calm down eventually.

You know how when you have a cold all you can do is think about all those times you didn’t have a cold and how easy it was to breathe? That’s kinda what it’s like when I’m short of breath with anxiety. Only it’s harder to remember what it was like being able to breathe. It’s more a case of PANIC STATIONS.

Excessive sweating

Not exactly attractive, but then neither is anxiety. When the panic rises and the thoughts start speeding like a runaway train, I start sweating. It makes me grumpy and super self-conscious which doesn’t help calm me down. It’s a physiological response to stress.

There’s not much I can do about it, except always carry a wee deodorant in my handbag and stay hydrated to help keep my body temperature regulated.

This list is far from exhaustive, and doesn’t even cover all of the physical symptoms I experience, but it gives you an idea of the sorts of things I deal with on a daily basis. Some days are worse than others, and some days I don’t have any symptoms at all.

Anxiety is no walk in the park. There are some handy tools and tips that can help make a bad day better, and a good day great! But, at the end of the day, I’ve found that the most important thing is to remember that anxiety is temporary. I will feel better, happier, stronger. And if that doesn’t work, a couple rounds of Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes or a load of star jumps makes everything a little more silly and a lot less scary.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, or any other mental illness, please reach out to someone you trust. Ask for support – you deserve it.

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