1. Anxiety hurts.
We’re talking about actual physical pain. The source can vary depending on the individual, but many people with anxiety suffer from “somatic” symptoms—headaches, muscle pain, rapid heart rate, stomach pain, acid reflux, and excessive sweating, says Royce Lee, MD, a psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at University of Chicago.
Somatic symptoms result from chronic stress. When you’re tense, your body’s sympathetic nervous system goes on high alert: muscles contract, pulse rises, blood pressure soars. In the short term, that’s no problem. But for people with anxiety disorders, the arousal occurs too often or it can be too strong, Lee says, and that leads to physical pain. “The stress response stops being helpful and it gets in the way”—in other words, it hurts.
2. You can’t control it.
Telling yourself to calm down (or having someone tell you to calm down) doesn’t help. Anxiety is a signal from the brain that something is wrong, telling your body to stay alert and protect itself. It’s an automatic emotional function of the brain that’s beyond your own control, Lee explains.
Telling yourself to stop being nervous or don’t have a panic attack can actually make anxiety worse. “It’s just like someone can’t tell themselves they are not hungry if they are; if you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s real.” In fact, recognizing and accepting the times you feel anxious can sometimes help you cope, Lee notes.