Dealing with your mental health

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can affect our body, thoughts and feelings in different ways.

But our thoughts, feelings and behaviour are linked, and can create a vicious circle:

Anxiety vicious cycle

What can happen to our bodies (physical symptoms) Thoughts and feelings
Faster, shallower breathing Fearing the worst
Feeling sick Feeling tense, nervous and on edge
Tightness or pain in the chest You may feel worried that there is something wrong with your lungs or heart
Pins and needles in toes or fingers Dwelling on negative experiences or thinking over a situation again and again
Feeling faint or dizzy Feeling numb
Tense muscles and headaches Feeling restless
Sweating Feeling unable to concentrate
Fast, thumping or irregular heart beat  
Raised blood pressure  
Difficulty sleeping  
Needing the toilet more frequently  
Churning in the pit of the stomach  

Panic attacks

Some people have panic attacks. They can be regular, or occur once and never again. Panic attacks are when your body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement is exaggerated, and you get a rapid build-up of physical responses. You might also panic if a flare-up of your symptoms includes feeling a lot more breathless than usual. Your anxiety will, in turn, make you feel even more breathless.

The physical symptoms of a panic attack are caused by your body going into fight or flight mode. As your body tries to take in more oxygen, your breathing quickens. Your body also responds making your heart beat faster and you tense up.

Are you experiencing anxiety and panic attacks? Our friendly helpline team will be able to give you advice. Call them on 03000 030 555.

So during an attack, you might feel you can’t breathe and: 

  • your heart pounds
  • you feel faint
  • you sweat
  • you feel sick
  • your limbs feel shaky
  • you feel you’re not connected to your body

During an attack, people often over-breathe or hyperventilate. This make your breathlessness feel even worse. Learning and using breathing techniques can help.

Next: How can I manage my anxiety? >

Download our mental health information (354KB, PDF)

Last medically reviewed: March 2018. Due for review: March 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.