With approximately 40 million adults in the United States currently living with anxiety disorders, the struggle certainly isn’t a rare one – yet those who live with anxiety fight against misconceptions and negative stereotypes every day. Most of this simply comes from not understanding what it is really like to live with anxiety.

Experts in the mental health field agree that the biggest barrier to treatment for those living with mental illness in today’s society is the stigma associated with it. Whether it is from fear of the unknown or a simple misunderstanding, much of the information surrounding this stigma is incredibly inaccurate!

One of the best ways to break through this stigma is simply to start having open, honest conversations about life with mental illness. Pulling back the curtain and revealing the reality of life with anxiety isn’t necessarily easy, but that didn’t stop the popular website The Mighty. Reaching out to their mental health community on Facebook, they asked,

“What’s one way anxiety causes you physical pain?”

The response they received was heartfelt and honest, revealing some of their biggest struggles and secrets. These answers provided a clear, detailed picture of the reality of day to day life with an anxiety disorder.

Here are 12 surprising yet real ways that ‘anxiety pain’ manifests in your life:

#1 – Stomach Pain or Discomfort

“Growing up, my parents brought me to the doctor multiple times because of stomach pain and nausea. It got to the point where I had to skip classes because of the pain. It wasn’t until my doctor asked me to track the stomach pain when I realized it always happened along with stress headaches. As an adult, it still happens; I just know the cause now.” – Alex K.

“My stomach. My anxiety causes twists and knots it feels like. Sometimes I get nauseous and have bowel issues. Other times it’s just intense pain.” – Krystal T.

“Massive stomach problems – I have IBS anyway and anxiety pushes it up to max level. At it’s worst, chronic nausea and vomiting too… it can be debilitating.” – Becki K.

#2 – Muscle Spasms

“Muscle spasms in my back. I first started getting them in high school. They were so bad that I would cry from the pain in class. So I ended up leaving public school and was homeschooled.” – Brittany O.

“I thought I had hemorrhoids or a rectal tear so I saw a specialist a few times but he never saw anything wrong. Finally he said ‘Do you have anxiety?’ He believes I am clenching the rectal muscles and causing spasms. Hot baths relieve it but just knowing what was causing it was relief.” – Donna S.

#3 – Back Pain

“Back ache from not being able to release tension. Jaw ache from teeth grinding during the night. Swollen eyes from pulling out eyelashes (trichotillomania?). And stomach aches from a restless tummy and anxiety mood swings.” – Brittany L.

“I’m constantly tense from loud noises, crowds, etc. that when I get home my back pain is crazy. Sometimes it hurts so bad I can’t move. One time my mom took me to the emergency room because it was going on for days with no letting up and I was stuck in my bed.” – Avery H.

#4 – Changes in Sleeping Habits

“My anxiety causes me to not get a whole lot of sleep, headaches almost everyday, hives, chest pain, and my eyes hurt almost all the time. Due to my anxiety, I’ve started noticing I’m getting less sleep during night and more sleep throughout the day.” – Amber S.

#5 – Grinding Your Teeth

“I’ve been told that I grind my teeth when I’m sleeping, and I catch myself several times a day clenching my teeth. I’m sure that’s part of the reason I get toothaches and have lost pieces of tooth occasionally.” – Dawn C.

“Teeth grinding in my sleep. I don’t know that it’s happened until I wake up feeling my sore jaw and a massive headache from the pressure. Those who have heard/seen it happen have said that it sounds like nails on a chalkboard.” – Melissa N.

“My stomach problems are a big one, but the worst is teeth grinding. It started when I was younger, and has gotten a little better since, but not by a lot. I’ve tried bite guards but they gag me unless I cut them way back, so they don’t really help much anyway.” – Emily L.

#6 – Clenching Your Jaw

“Jaw clenching which results in significant pain. I was recently diagnosed with TMJ which makes a lot of sense and is most definitely caused by my anxiety.” – Nahrissa R.

“I clench my jaws constantly. It creates headaches daily if I don’t do self-care like exercises, stretches and heat. I have a mouth splint I wear nightly and I need to get massages often, but it’s pretty much just a temporary fix.” – Kimberlee B.

#7 – Pain from Picking or Scratching the Skin

“Sounds a little strange, but anxiety causes me to pick my skin, specifically the skin near my fingernails. I can’t control it, it’s not because I’m hungry or anything. Sometimes the anxiety gets so bad that the skin turns blood red from all the picking.” – Alex C.

“Whenever I get anxious I start scratching at my scalp so hard that it bleeds and scabs, then it becomes an endless cycle of me anxiously picking those scabs.” – Damien A.

“When I feel anxious, I tend to ball up my fists and let my nails dig into my skin. Other times I get the sensation to scratch my arms even when there isn’t an itch. I find that the pain distracts me from the anxiety just enough so I don’t let out a tear, a scream, or scrunch my face in extreme discomfort.” – Hazirah R.

“A skin condition that started developing when I was 11. It would itch, I would scratch and it came to a point where half of my head would be covered in wounds. It took an enormous effort to reduce the scratching to a level where at least I’m not hurting myself anymore. The skin condition used to be centered under hair so it was covered at least but lately it got to my eyes and for the past week I’ve had to walk around with scabby red swollen eyes as if I was beaten and crying on a daily level.” – Anja R.

#8 – Hives

“Full body chronic hives run my life when I’m struggling with my anxiety. They aren’t just on my thighs, they make their way to my arms, legs, back, sides, shoulders, feet and hands. They’ll get so bad sometimes I’ll experience anaphylaxis and will need to seek medical attention. Each time it’s nothing to do with allergens because I’ve done all the testing – it’s simply stress and anxiety induced. It makes me feel like I’m a problem.” – Kaitlyn A.

“I get anxiety hives. Mostly on my arms, face and scalp. I hate the incessant itching. I feel like people assume I have bad hygiene.” – Emily S.

#9 – Pulling Out Your Hair

“I clench my jaw almost constantly. I have full body tremors which causes me to ache all over. I also pull out my hair strand by strand, and don’t even realize I’m doing it.” – Keegan M.

“I pull out my eyelashes! My anxiety was getting so bad once, that I had no eyelashes left. Ended up getting massive eye infection! I looked like I’d been punched in the eye.” ‘ Nik W.

#10 – Chest Pain

“Chest pains combined with pain running down my arms. Burning pain all over the skin covering my body. And a constant pained and upset stomach. Head ache. Pain in my lungs when breathing in the middle of an anxiety attack.” – Emelie L.

“I get chest pains and have a hard time getting a full breath in. I used to confuse the breathing with my asthma. The chest pains aren’t so bad I have to go in unless they won’t go away for a few days.” – Lala M.

“I’ve been diagnosed with NCCP (Non Cardiac Chest Pain) which happens when my anxiety gets too out of control. It feels like I’m having a heart attack.” – Kimy B.

“My throat closes up, and it’s as if someone has a vice on my chest. I clench my teeth constantly until it causes migraines, and I get ‘nervous poops’ which is painful enough by itself lol.” – Cori J.

“I sometimes have severe chest pain or hives. The chest pain can be so bad, I’ve said it’s like having a heart attack even though I’ve never experienced one. The hives often feel like ants slowly crawling on each nerve ending causing me to claw my skin.” – Kaylee B.

#11 – Headaches and Migraines

“I get migraines from the stress or lack of hunger it’s bad enough to lose my appetite. Or an upset stomach because I mistake my anxiety as a ‘gut feeling.’” – Andie E.

“My anxiety can get so bad it causes massive migraines. I’ve blacked out from the pain before. I’ve also fainted from panic attacks, which cause me to have anxiety from being so embarrassed.” – Ray W.

#12 – Full-Body Aches and Pains

“When I’m having an anxiety attack, my whole body tenses up and freezes so violently that I physically can’t move for a while afterwards because my whole body hurts so much from the experience.” – Arianna J.

“I have a subtype of PTSD where my brain tends to channel emotional pain and anxiety into physical symptoms, so that when I’m feeling anxious, my upper back and shoulders will go into muscle spasms that are truly painful and my whole body will present with achiness and pain. Sometimes this seems to trigger a flare up of Fibromyalgia, which I also struggle with.” – Mark B.

“It makes my whole body hurt, especially my legs, back and head. My entire body tenses up and it gives me headaches and makes my muscles super sore. This is something I have to deal with on a daily basis. I try to do body scans throughout the day to notice where the tension is and release it, which helps sometimes.” – Rachel B.


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