Looking after your mental health

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

On this page we explain how anxiety can affect you and the symptoms you might experience. You can also read more about ways to manage anxiety and possible treatments.

On this page:

How does breathlessness link to 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 are the physical symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety feels different for everyone and can affect our bodies in different ways. These are some of the physical symptoms of anxiety you might experience:

  • faster, shallower breathing
  • feeling sick
  • tightness or pain in the chest
  • pins and needles in toes or fingers
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • tense muscles and headaches
  • sweating 
  • fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • raised blood pressure
  • difficulty sleeping
  • needing the toilet more frequently
  • churning in the pit of the stomach.

How can anxiety affect your thoughts and feelings?

How anxiety affects how you feel varies for everyone. You might:

  • fear the worst
  • feel tense, nervous and on edge
  • feel worried there is something wrong with your lungs or heart
  • dwell on negative experiences or thinking over a situation again and again
  • feel numb
  • feel restless
  • feel unable to concentrate.

Panic attacks

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. Your breathing quickens and your body also releases hormones so your heart beats faster and your muscles tense.

During a panic attack, you might feel you can’t breathe and you:

  • have a pounding heart
  • feel faint
  • sweat
  • feel sick
  • have shaky limbs
  • feel you’re not connected to your body.

Panic attacks can happen regularly or can happen once and never again. They can be very frightening if you feel you can’t breathe. 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.

During a panic attack, people often over-breathe or hyperventilate.  If you start to breathe too quickly in response to a panic attack, you may breathe in more oxygen than your body needs. When you do this, the delicate balance of the gases in your lungs is upset. An amount of carbon dioxide normally stays in the blood. If you breathe in too much air too often, the carbon dioxide is pushed out through the lungs and this affects the messages the brain receives to tell you to breathe.

Mind has useful information on panic attacks and things that help to manage them.

Download our mental health information (PDF, 474KB)

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.