Anxiety has demonstrable physical effects. The most common physical symptoms of stress include elevated heart and respiratory rates. Still, there are countless physical anxiety symptoms, ranging from clenched teeth and headaches to unexplained dizziness or nausea. While anxiety might at first seem primarily like a mental or emotional condition, it possesses physiological consequences that extend far beyond the initial buzz of anxiety.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety can be defined as “feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” When the stressor is eliminated, the anxiety typically subsides. However, feelings of worry and tension are persistent, difficult to control, and significantly impact daily functioning for some individuals. This may indicate the presence of ananxiety disorder. If you think you have an anxiety disorder, speaking with an online therapist is a great place to learn more about how to handle this.
There are various anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Specific Phobias. While each has a distinct set of symptoms, general characteristics of an anxiety disorder include unexplained fear or a sense of impending doom, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and engaging in avoidant behavior. While all of these demonstrate the mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety, there are many physical symptoms of anxiety, including a racing heart, excessive sweating, trembling, feeling weak, having difficulty sleeping, and gastrointestinal issues.
If you believe you may have an anxiety disorder, consider seeking professional help. Living with anxiety can be overwhelming and isolating, so reaching out for help can initially prove to be a difficult task. Fortunately, most mental health practitioners have dealt with some form of anxiety before and will know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of anxiety disorders.
How is Anxiety Diagnosed?
Anxiety disorders are diagnosed through careful cataloging of patient-reported symptoms, discussion, and observation. When meeting with a psychiatrist or psychologist, the first order of business is to explain why you have reached out to a mental health professional for help. Panic attacks, racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping, and persistent fear are all common reasons to seek help for anxiety.
Once you have gone through your anxiety symptoms, a therapist might begin asking you to pinpoint any triggers you experience. Someone with General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), for instance, will likely have anxiety triggers that differ dramatically from someone who has Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). Someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will also have different triggers from someone with SAD. Identifying triggers helps you and your therapist determine what type of anxiety is plaguing you.
From there, a broad conversation regarding treatment will likely be in order. Treatment types depend largely on the therapist you’ve enlisted, the symptoms you experience, and the outcome you are looking for. For some, pharmaceutical intervention is the desired goal, so a psychiatrist will be the ideal fit, in addition, to talk therapy. For others, self-management is the desired focus, so Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is likely to be a good fit. For still others, possibilities are wide open. In these cases, patients and therapists can go over all possible treatment modalities to find something that fits your specific needs, goals, and symptoms.
Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety
A racing heart and high blood pressure are the two most common warning signs of a panic attack or the onset of a stress response. Although these are legitimate areas to focus on, they can dwarf equally common physical symptoms of anxiety that might be overlooked.
One of the most significant physical symptoms of anxiety is an upset stomach. A fight or flight response can cause persistent belly troubles, ranging from simple nausea to regular episodes of constipation, diarrhea, or a back-and-forth of the two. This particular physical symptom is problematic for many individuals with anxiety, as the presence of intense bowel discomfort can cause stress to compound and pile up, resulting in a constant cycle of stress, stress response, stressor, and stress again.
Feeling tense, wired, or on edge are also common symptoms of anxiety. When your body’s stress response is triggered, you enter into a state of “fight or flight.” In this state, your heart and respiratory rates accelerate, your muscles tense, and your body enters a state of watchfulness, which allows you to attack or flee. Although this is immensely useful if you are about to be attacked by a wild animal, it is problematic if the danger is a false alarm, an imagined scenario, or another similar issue. In these instances, your body is not allowed to release the stress response it has created, which can cause the symptoms of fight or flight to stick around without a safe, healthy outlet.
Anxiety And Musculature: The Physical Effects Of Stress
As stated above, your body tenses during a stress response. Your muscles might be taut, your jaw clenched, and your fists balled up in case of an attack. If someone is coming at you with a weapon drawn, the tension in your body will be invaluable in warding off danger. Still, when this response occurs again and again, without an actual predator involved, your body begins to train itself to stay in a tense, agitated state permanently.
Permanently engaging in a “fight or flight” mentality can be exhausting, and it can exert your muscles beyond the point of immediate recovery. People with anxiety disorders might find themselves feeling weak, drained, and overwhelmed often. While some of this is a mental exercise, some of it is an actual physical response to the stress anxiety places upon your physical body and your musculature.
With prolonged periods of stress, your body begins to develop a rigid, uncompromising stature, often taking on the poor stature, taut muscles, and rigidity of your fight or flight physicality. This can lead to muscle knots and injury in the neck, shoulders, back, jaw, and head. Muscle aches, spasms, and cramps are not uncommon in people with anxiety, as your physical body is very involved in the way you experience and deal with stress.
What Is a Stress Knot and How Does Muscle Pain Develop?
A muscle knot is caused by irritation from a repeated motion stressing the same muscles. While most people think of exercise or movement when they hear this, it can also refer to holding a position or stance for a prolonged period. You can develop muscle knots from frequently tensing your body in response to stress or having poor posture when sitting at a desk. When we feel stress or anxiety, it is common for muscles along the spine, especially the upper back and neck, to become tense.
Over time, this tension can cause more noticeable knots. Some of the pain associated with this may be minor, and easily resolved with time, rest, and proper recovery. However, long-term stress or tension in the body can result in chronic conditions affecting muscles.
Because the body and the mind are closely intertwined, anxiety can lead to myofascial pain syndrome in some people. This chronic pain disorder is characterized by muscle pain, particularly when touching a trigger point. Myofascial trigger points can often cause referred pain– or pain in other, unexpected body regions. Massage, self-massage, and stretching can all be beneficial in relieving some myofascial pain. However, if the pain is severe, a qualified health care professional can use trigger point injections to relax muscles and ease the pain temporarily.
Can Anxiety Cause Stress Knots In The Neck And Back?
Anxiety can cause knots to develop in your back, shoulders, and neck. Although a racing heart and high blood pressure are the two most frequently mentioned physical symptoms of anxiety, these are far from the only physical symptoms in existence. All of your body’s systems and functions can be negatively impacted by the presence of stress and anxiety, and each of these systems has its reaction to the prolonged presence of stress.
Your muscular system is adversely affected by the presence of stress. Muscles tense, jaws clench, and your body practically vibrate as it gets ready to run or defend itself, which both require heightened reflexes, speed, and agility. To create these conditions, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are not problematic; they make you alert and on edge, and you can react far faster than would usually be the case. When even one of these hormones is constantly and consistently flooding your system, however, disease, pain, and discomfort can ensue, including the development of knots and tightness in your neck, shoulders, and back.
Anxiety is nothing to mess with. It may seem innocuous, but protracted periods of stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your body, creating illness, faulty functioning, and pain. When these symptoms are present, treatment with a mental health professional can help ease them. Still, body-specific therapeutic techniques can also help disengage some of the tension created by anxiety and give your body the chance to rest and relax truly.
A Pain In The Neck: Stress And Recovery
As the mental and emotional effects of stress, the physical effects of anxiety can be overwhelming to navigate. Fortunately, there are ways to combat your body’s physical and physiological responses to anxiety, in addition to the usual therapeutic avenues used to treat anxiety disorders.
One of the best and most effective ways to treat muscle tightness and stress at home is yoga. Yoga practices have been consistently linked to higher physical performance, reduced stress, and greater flexibility, all of which can aid in eliminating the physical effects of anxiety. Even 10 to 30 minutes per day of yoga, or three one-hour sessions per week, is enough to reap the benefits of yoga practice and help alleviate the pain and discomfort caused by knots in the neck, shoulders, and back.
Aerobic activity is another great way to release physical tension. Running, jogging, or swimming can increase blood flow and reduce stress. Even 5 minutes of cardio can begin to create anti-anxiety effects. While 30 minutes of brisk exercise 5 days a week goes a long way, even just a 10-minute walk can stimulate positive results. Frequency tends to be key over intensity as it relates to anxiety. So a short daily walk might be more beneficial than solely waiting till the weekend for that long hike or run.
Massage is also a great way to treat anxiety and knots simultaneously; human touch is immensely important in creating feelings of calm and well-being. Massage allows the tense, knotted muscles to relax and let go of tension, improving your physical response to anxiety and giving you a sense of comfort, connection, and calm. The cost of massage can be prohibitive, but even engaging in a single massage therapy session per month can be helpful, and some massage therapists offer sliding scale pricing. Local massage schools also offer low-cost massages given by students.
If you cannot afford a massage, stretching and self-massage can be great at-home substitutes. Regular stretching can help prevent muscle knots by elongating the connective tissue. Knots shorten and tighten a muscle, while stretching can help lengthen it back to its previous form and increase blood flow to support tissue healing. A foam roller is an excellent tool to treat muscle knots and tight muscle fibers. By applying weight, one can roll over portions of the body that may be experiencing muscle pain. If a particular spot is tender or causing pain in the region, gently massage back and forth on this area to release muscle tension.
Physical therapists are trained to support clients’ movement and reduce pain. They use various techniques such as dry needling, acupuncture, massage, and exercise regimes. Another approach, trigger point pressure release, applies pressure to trigger points manually or with tools. It can be beneficial in releasing tension stored in one area but causing referred pain elsewhere.
Physical therapy can be especially helpful when the pain is severe or in a sensitive region. Neck pain, in particular, can interfere with daily life because we need neck mobility to move our heads or even walk properly. Seeking professional advice can help you determine the best course of action and techniques to treat and prevent muscle knots in these sensitive areas.
In combination with some of the other techniques mentioned in this article, talk therapy (especially cognitive-behavioral therapy) effectively reduces anxiety. Once your mind is less stressed, your body may follow suit. One study showed a direct relation between muscular tension and anxiety.
A review of the literature has shown that online counseling is just as effective as traditional counseling. In addition, it is convenient and flexible, allowing you to connect with a licensed mental health professional from a setting that is already comfortable for you. Having a trained professional’s guidance to help you develop the skills necessary to manage your anxiety may get you well on your way to alleviating your stress knots. More relaxed equals less tense, and less tension leads to muscle relaxation. Read what others have to stay and then take a step toward self-care – our counselors are standing by to help you live a less anxious life.
“Online counseling through BetterHelp has given me more ways to interact with my counselor than in-person visits. I don’t melt down either anxiety in a waiting room; I’m not picking up or spreading germs in one either. Things that are normally harder to talk about are easier in writing or when not sitting right in front of another person. I get less stressed and emotional when I can have my session at home where I feel safer.”
Anxiety symptoms can lead to emotional and physical changes that cause tension in your neck and shoulders. But it is possible to manage both anxiety and muscle tension. Yoga, stretches, and warm compresses can help ease the pain and discomfort that come with neck and shoulder tension.Can stress and anxiety cause muscle knots? ›
Muscle tension tends to be a symptom of anxiety disorder. This is when you feel like your muscles are tight or strained when you are in constant pain. By going into treatment for your anxiety, your muscles will be more relaxed as well as your mental state.How do I get rid of neck tension and anxiety? ›
- Doing a deep relaxation technique, such as meditation.
- Doing mild stretching exercises.
- Mild to moderate exercise (exercise is an effective stress reducer)
- Having a massage.
- Having a warm bath.
- A heating pad on the back of the neck (heat reduces muscle tension)
- Sore muscle ointment.
Knots in your neck can also form due to physical inactivity and emotional stress. Because muscle knots often hurt, it may feel uncomfortable to move your neck. Fortunately, simple self-care measures, like massages and stretching, may help you find relief.What does anxiety feel like in your neck? ›
Tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders is a common symptom of stress and anxiety. It's part of your body's way of gearing up to survive a perceived physical threat. In other words, it's part of the “fight or flight” stress response.Can emotional stress cause muscle knots? ›
A sudden onset or prolonged periods of stress can cause muscle tension and pain, or other associated pain such as headaches brought on by muscle tension in the nearby areas of the shoulders, neck and head.What do stress knots feel like? ›
However, most people agree that muscle knots feel swollen, tense, or bumpy, and cause an aching sensation. Depending on where in the body the muscle knot is located, it may cause seemingly unrelated pain in other areas.What are anxiety knots? ›
Stress and anxiety can make you feel like you have knots in your belly. Some people feel nauseated and even vomit. If this happens all the time, you can develop digestive problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or sores in your stomach lining called ulcers.How long does it take for stress knots to go away? ›
It takes time for the muscles to adapt to a new motion or recover from stress. Usually within a week or two a muscle knot will resolve on its own.Why do I have so many stress knots? ›
A muscle knot can develop for several reasons: Intense exercise in the affected area of the body. Muscle strain. Overuse, such as working a specific muscle every day in your job or in a sport you do regularly.
- a churning feeling in your stomach.
- feeling light-headed or dizzy.
- pins and needles.
- feeling restless or unable to sit still.
- headaches, backache or other aches and pains.
- faster breathing.
- a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat.
- sweating or hot flushes.
Anxiety and muscle tension often go hand in hand. Tense muscles in the face, jaw, neck, shoulders, and upper back are often found in people who are stressed or anxious. Tension in this area can lead to neck pain.How do you get rid of stress knots? ›
- Use heat and/or ice to treat a sore muscle. You can alternate between heat and ice packs or focus on whichever one seems to bring you more relief.
- Get a massage. ...
- Apply pressure to trigger points. ...
- Use self-massage tools. ...
- Don't forget to stretch. ...
- Stick a needle in it. ...
- Give it time.
Myofascial pain is a common syndrome. If you have myofascial pain syndrome, you may feel pain and tenderness in muscles in a certain area of your body. This pain and tenderness is often related to one or more “trigger points.” To the touch, trigger points feel like small bumps, nodules or knots in your muscle.How long do neck knots last? ›
Usually within a week or two a muscle knot will resolve on its own. You can also help speed the process of recovery.Which part of the body feels anxiety? ›
Tight Muscles – Anxiety will run tension through the body and impact different muscles. People feel the tightness in other areas. Some will feel it in their neck, jaw, chest, or the stomach. There is no specific area – wherever the brain sends the nerve signals.Can you feel anxiety in your upper back? ›
Yes! Since anxiety stresses the body, and stress can cause muscle tension and back pain, anxiety can cause acute and chronic back pain symptoms. Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of persistent back problems, such as pain, tension, stiffness, soreness, pressure, spasms, and immobility.What are weird symptoms of anxiety? ›
- Excessive yawning. During anxiety attacks, hyperventilation is a common response leading your body to feel it isn't getting enough oxygen. ...
- Phantom smell. ...
- Brain shivers or zaps. ...
- Phantom vibrations. ...
- Tremors. ...
- Derealization. ...
- Globus hystericus. ...
- Eye problems.
Muscle knots, or myofascial trigger points, are small, bump-like areas of muscle that can be painful. Treatment often includes home remedies for relaxation, but professional treatments are also available. Myofascial trigger points can cause chronic pain and affect a person's range of motion.What emotion is stored in the neck? ›
Neck Tension = Fear and Repressed Self-Expression
Fear and anxiety are also frequently stored in this area, particularly as a physical response to danger (as the neck is a vulnerable area) or strange environments. Neck muscle tension is also related to trust issues.
Muscle knots won't go away on their own. Once they develop, they will continue to build because they are trying to protect the area. To release it, you'll need to contract your shoulder muscle and work to break up its fibers.What are emotional knots? ›
Emotional knots: wounds that don't heal themselves
Most of these knots create complex and tangled bows where your thoughts, fears, and anxieties pile up. Every day they exert more pressure and cause more suffering. Gestalt psychology deals with these types of situations.
Some of these lumps can reduce with treatment (if seen quick), but the longer it sits there untreated the more likely it will become permanent!How often should I get a massage for knots? ›
But most people could benefit from a massage once every two weeks. Realistically once every two weeks, I know if I leave it any longer than this the aches return, knots start to build up again, along with my cortisone levels.What to drink to calm nerves? ›
- Apple cider vinegar.
- Aches and pains.
- Insomnia or sleepiness.
- A change in social behavior, such as staying in often.
- Low energy.
- Unfocused or cloudy thinking.
- Change in appetite.
- Increased alcohol or drug use.
- Change in emotional responses to others.
- Go on a leisurely walk or bike ride. ...
- Write into a journal. ...
- Meditate or practice yoga. ...
- Listen to music. ...
- Read a book or watch a movie.
Severe anxiety occurs when the body's natural responses to stress exceed healthy levels and interrupt your ability to function and carry out typical day-to-day tasks. While most people experience some anxiety, as with a new experience or challenge, severe anxiety can be overwhelming.What long term anxiety does to the body? ›
There are some long-term effects on the body and mind are caused by stress and anxiety. Harvard Health (2008) found that Anxiety was related to chronic illness such as GI issues and heart disease. The Mayo Clinic (2017) included other worsening symptoms such as headaches and migraines as well as sleep issues.Can anxiety cause upper back tension? ›
When you're stressed, your breathing patterns change and cause strain and tension in the mid-back. Your shoulders hunch up and cause pain throughout the upper and middle back.
Knots are comprised of tense muscle fibers. "Muscle knots are actually hyperirritable spots in muscle or fascial tissue [bands or sheets of connective tissue] known as myofascial trigger points," says Charleston.What causes muscle knots in neck? ›
Following are the most common causes of tensions resulting in muscle knots: Repetitive motion such as turning your neck in the same direction. Stress. Dehydration.What do muscle knots indicate? ›
Knots are usually a type of spasm that causes a small portion of a muscle to tense up. This tension can often be painful. Muscle knots usually happen because a muscle has been irritated by a repetitive motion. Athletes will notice muscle knots after training one group of muscles for a long period of time.What autoimmune disease causes muscle knots? ›
Myositis (my-o-SY-tis) is a rare type of autoimmune disease that inflames and weakens muscle fibers. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's own immune system attacks itself. In the case of myositis, the immune system attacks healthy muscle tissue, which results in inflammation, swelling, pain, and eventual weakness.What happens if a muscle knot goes untreated? ›
While muscle knots are common, they are not completely harmless. If a muscle knot is so severe that it causes intense pain, it may be tearing at micro fibers of muscle tissue. With time, this tearing can cause scarring, and the tissue loses elasticity, which is part of why the body is so flexible.When should I worry about a knot in my neck? ›
You will need to see your doctor for any lump which sticks around, but if you have any of the following symptoms in addition to the lump then do so as soon as possible: Losing weight without trying to. A change in your voice (such as a hoarse voice) for more than three weeks. Night sweats.Are knots in neck normal? ›
The good news is that neck lumps are common and most often harmless. They can come in different sizes and textures, and they're usually non-cancerous. But there are a few types of lumps that could be a sign of a more serious condition, and you can't detect these through simple home evaluations.What does it mean if you have a knot on the back of your neck? ›
Swollen lymph nodes
By far the most common cause of neck lumps, swollen lymph nodes indicate an ongoing infection that your body is trying to fight off. The lymphatic system is a network that spans the entire body, like the posterior cervical lymph nodes at the back of your neck and around the sides of your throat.
- stomach pain, nausea, or digestive trouble.
- insomnia or other sleep issues (waking up frequently, for example)
- weakness or fatigue.
- rapid breathing or shortness of breath.
- pounding heart or increased heart rate.
- trembling or shaking.
Are you always waiting for disaster to strike or excessively worried about things such as health, money, family, work, or school? If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD can make daily life feel like a constant state of worry, fear, and dread.
When tension and stress build in the neck, muscles may feel tight or achy. Neck pain may also spread to the shoulder or be accompanied by a headache.What is the number one symptom of anxiety? ›
The most common physical symptoms of anxiety include fatigue, increased heart rate, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, muscle aches, muscle weakness, headaches, digestion, discomfort and tingling sensations.Can anxiety do weird things to your body? ›
“When anxiety gets into your striated muscles - the muscles you do not have conscious control over - you might start to experience symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome, a change in your menstrual cycles and heart palpitations, to name a few,” explains Zoë.Can you have anxiety all day long? ›
If you're feeling anxious all the time, or it's affecting your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder or a panic disorder.Can anxiety cause knots? ›
Dehydration, unhealthy eating habits, and stress and anxiety may also contribute to muscle knots. Muscle knots can occur anywhere in the body, but they're usually found in your back, shoulders, and neck. They often show up in your gluteal muscles, too.Can massaging a knot make it worse? ›
Massage therapy helps treat knots by increasing circulation and improving blood flow, which loosens stiff muscles and relieves tension.Does it hurt to massage a knot? ›
Most knots are what we call 'latent' meaning they only hurt when you (or your massage therapist) puts pressure on them. The rest are so-called 'active' meaning they are painful all the time.Where is sadness stored in the body? ›
When we chronically repress emotions, we create toxicity in our body, mind, and heart. This unprocessed emotional energy is stored in our organs, muscles, and tissues. It leads to inflammation and chronic health problems, and it undermines our overall well-being.What emotion is held in the upper back? ›
Upper Back Reflects emotional holding: Resentment, holding back love and support Lodged feelings of hurt, fear and grief are reflected by our ability to breathe Beliefs about emotional support are reflected ---what have you pushed back so you don't have to feel the feelings.What stress do you hold in your neck? ›
Tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders is a common symptom of stress and anxiety. It's part of your body's way of gearing up to survive a perceived physical threat. In other words, it's part of the “fight or flight” stress response.
Here's a look at some potential causes for a neck knot: Poor posture when lifting or carrying items. Repetitive motions. Poor posture when sitting at a desk for long periods of time.Why won't muscle knots go away? ›
Muscle knots won't go away on their own. Once they develop, they will continue to build because they are trying to protect the area. To release it, you'll need to contract your shoulder muscle and work to break up its fibers.How long do neck knots take to go away? ›
It takes time for the muscles to adapt to a new motion or recover from stress. Usually within a week or two a muscle knot will resolve on its own. Getting a massage is one option to help speed up recovery when you have muscle knots.How do you get rid of permanent knots? ›
- Get a massage. Ah, the soothing relief of a massage. ...
- Use a foam roller. Foam rollers allow you to perform self-massage by making tight muscles looser. ...
- Try a massage gun. ...
- Ask a physical therapist about dry needling. ...
- Stretch. ...
- Use ice or heat. ...
- Try acupuncture.
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
- Having an increased heart rate.
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired.
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.