You may experience anxious thoughts, but physically, anxiety lives in your body. Everyone is born with a predisposition towards occasional anxiety — a form of self-preservation — but with time, some people do become more anxious than others. Dealing with chronic anxiety is multifaceted, but figuring out how anxiety exists in both your mind and body can be really helpful towards understanding these issues on a deeper level.
Anxiety is meant to be hard-wired. It is a natural way humans have protected themselves throughout the course of evolution. But different people have different thresholds for anxiety, and different bodies process these feelings differently. You may even look back on your past and realize that your adult anxiety has been becoming more and more hard-wired over the years, as you’ve learned the specific ways you personally respond to stress.
“Each time we experience stress and don’t manage it, it builds in our body,” Kristen Fescoe, clinical program manager at Resility Health, tells Bustle. “Over time our bodies become wired for stress and anxiety. Every time we experience day-to-day stressors our bodies exhibit this hard-wired response of fight or flight.” Because of this, anxiety can build up over time.
Understanding whether or not you’re more hard-wired for anxiety than most, however, isn’t that difficult. According to mental health professionals, there are multiple ways to tell.
Here are seven signs your body may be physically wired for anxiety, according to experts.
1Difficulty Focusing Or Concentrating
When your body is predisposed to anxiety, you may struggle with attention issues a bit more than most. You may not have a clinically-diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but you may find that concentrating is a bit harder for you than others — especially when you’re stressed.
“One of the most common signs that you are hard-wired for anxiety is having difficulty focusing or concentrating,” Fescoe says. Finding coping mechanisms for anxiety that work best for you can help you struggle with this issue less.
2You Struggle With Sleep
Bodies that are physically wired for anxiety may have more trouble than others when it comes to relaxing at night. So if you struggle with both anxiety and sleep, this may be the missing link.
“You may also find that you have trouble sleeping, whether it be falling asleep, staying asleep, or not feeling rested after you are able to sleep,” Fescoe says. This isn’t to say, however, that sleep issues are incurable. Both therapy and medication can help you deal with your nighttime symptoms of anxiety.
3You Have Stomach Problems
Anxiety and the gut are deeply connected. So if you can correlate bouts of stomach upset to moments of stress in your life, you may be predisposed to anxiety.
“Many people living with high levels of stress and anxiety experience stomach issues of all sorts,” Fescoe says. Both mental health professionals, as well as physicians, can help you deal with these unpleasant symptoms.
4You Were Socially Anxious As A Child
Not all signs of anxiety being hard-wired in your body actually show up in your body. Sometimes it requires a little digging into your past to understand why you may experience these feelings.
“When you’re young, your brain has a lot of myelin, the substance that turns neurons into superconductors,” author and professor Loretta Breuning, PhD, tells Bustle. “Any neurons you activate repeatedly when you’re young get myelinated. So any social pain you anticipate when you’re young gets wired in.” If you had a childhood where socializing was difficult, then, your brain may automatically react to social situations with fear. Therapy can help with this.
5You Have Back Pain
For people who are physically wired for anxiety, back pain is pretty common. Holding tension in your back and neck is a natural reaction to long periods of stress.
“Many people who experience muscle tension and blame everything from prolonged sitting to poor posture, but this is one of the most common physical signs that your body is hard-wired from anxiety,” Fescoe says. Of course, multiple issues can cause back pain, but if you deal with anxiety, there’s a chance there’s a link between the two issues.
6You Get Headaches Often
Headaches, like many chronic health problems, have a variety of causes. But if you get anxious often, and have headaches, there may be a correlation in your physical wiring.
“Chronic and irritating headaches [… are] a telltale sign that your anxiety level is triggering a physical response,” Fescoe says. Making sure you talk to your doctor about both your physical and emotional symptoms is important.
7You Have Been Rewarded For Being Anxious In The Past
If your anxiety leads to perfectionism, which leads to success in school or extracurriculars as a child, then you may have developed a physical hardwiring for anxiety as an adult.
“It is useful to know how your anxiety habit got built,’ Dr. Breuning says. “Sometimes people get rewarded for being anxious in one way or another.” Anxiety you feel now can be traced back to this.
Since everyone is physically wired to experience anxiety to some degree, the goal is not to cure yourself of anxiety itself. Finding healthy coping mechanisms and physical relief from the more uncomfortable symptoms is a worthy goal as you strive to attain more balanced mental health.