Anxiety that manifests as physical symptoms is called somatic anxiety. Like other forms of anxiety, you can manage symptoms with psychotherapy, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, medications.

Anxiety is a natural response when you’re facing a real or perceived threat. It’s a feeling associated with your body’s stress reaction, also known as your “fight, flight, or freeze” response. However, when anxiety becomes persistent or recurrent, it may manifest with a variety of symptoms and could affect your quality of life.

The term “somatic” means “relating to the physical body” or “of the body.” Experts use the term to describe physical states, medical conditions, functions, and treatments that focus on your physical self.

When anxiety symptoms appear as physical experiences, experts call it somatic anxiety.

Somatic anxiety is the physical presentation of anxiety. It’s a form of somatization or the expression of psychological distress through physical symptoms. In other words, it’s when your body develops symptoms (e.g., pain, fatigue, stomach upset, or low immunity) in response to your anxiety.

Somatic anxiety is the counterpart to cognitive anxiety, which refers to the thoughts, emotions, and mental impairments resulting from anxiety. When the two are combined, they make up a broader experience of anxiety.

While somatic anxiety is not considered a formal diagnosis in clinical guidebooks like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR), it’s a common experience of anxiety for many people.

Anxiety activates your body’s stress response, a variety of internal processes to help you respond to challenges. The chemicals and hormones released during the stress response can have body-wide effects, from increasing your heart rate and respiration to causing muscle tension and slowing digestion.

Because of these changes related to the stress response, it’s natural to experience physical discomfort when you’re anxious. If you experience persistent symptoms of cognitive anxiety, you may be more likely to also have physical symptoms more often.

Read more about the effects of anxiety on the body.

Somatic anxiety refers to any physical expression of anxiety. Somatic symptom disorder is a mental health condition with its own diagnostic criteria. It involves an intense preoccupation with one or more physical sensations and symptoms, leading to major psychological distress and impairments.

Somatic symptom disorder can feature somatic anxiety, but it involves a broader set of psychological symptoms centering on symptom-fixated thoughts and behaviors.

Everyone experiences anxiety in a different way. You may experience one or two somatic symptoms — or none at all. You may experience common symptoms, like stomachache, or develop more persistent and chronic symptoms, like low immunity.

When anxiety presents physically, it may appear as:

  • muscle ache, tension, or pain
  • trembling, twitching, or shaking
  • sweating even in cold temperatures
  • changes in body temperature
  • stomachache and indigestion
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • intense startle responses
  • rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • dry mouth

A simple somatic anxiety example could be feeling nauseous before you have to give a big work presentation or feeling flushed and sweaty when surrounded by new people in a social setting. Somatic anxiety in sports might look like insomnia before a big match or feeling dizzy before a game.

Somatic anxiety symptoms can vary in intensity and duration. Other medical conditions or your specific anxiety disorder may affect these symptoms. Panic disorder, for example, can cause more extreme somatic experiences like choking sensations, tunnel vision, chest pain, or difficulty breathing.

Your individual anxiety sensitivity may also matter. A neuroimaging study from 2022 suggests certain people may be more prone to somatic anxiety due to the way the neural networks in their brains communicate.

Read more about the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Managing somatic anxiety starts with addressing anxiety as a whole. If you’re experiencing everyday anxiety with somatic symptoms, developing in-the-moment and proactive anxiety management strategies can help.

These useful tools can help reduce your anxiety overall and can pull you out of an anxiety spiral if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Techniques to consider include:

Read more about natural ways to reduce anxiety.

If anxiety symptoms affect how you navigate life, you may be living with an anxiety disorder. While several types of anxiety disorders exist, they can be managed through individualized psychotherapy, medications, and supportive lifestyle changes.

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is available in many formats and can be customized to your needs. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are two common forms of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders.

Medications are also available to help relieve severe symptoms of anxiety. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications help regulate the chemicals in your brain that contribute to anxiety symptoms.

For somatic anxiety, a healthcare professional may recommend another type of medication called a beta-blocker. Beta-blockers work by inhibiting the effects of adrenaline, an excitatory substance in the body that increases during your stress response. By blocking adrenaline, beta-blockers can reduce certain physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, skin flushing, shaking, or trembling.

Lifestyle modifications may also help, including:

  • spending time in nature if you feel comfortable outdoors
  • getting regular exercise
  • focusing on a balanced diet
  • getting quality sleep
  • spending time with friends and family
  • balancing your work-life routine
  • playing with your pets, if you have any
  • periodically looking out the window and focusing on details of the things you see

Somatic anxiety refers to physical symptoms that result from experiencing anxiety.

Because anxiety kickstarts a host of physiological changes in your body, it’s natural to experience physical discomfort when you’re anxious. When symptoms of anxiety — somatic or otherwise — are impairing, you may be living with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders may lead to more persistent physical symptoms in some people.

Speaking with a mental health professional can provide insight into your symptoms and allow you to explore management options and coping strategies.