Managing the Physical Symptoms of Panic and Anxiety

Woman sitting with hands in face during panic attack

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All anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, involve some degree of anxiety and nervousness. Anxiety is an inner state that includes feelings of dread, worry, fear, stress, and apprehension. For people with panic disorder, the impact of anxiety is typically experienced on mental, emotional, and even physical levels.

A particularly unpleasant experience of anxiety-related physical sensations can come in the form of a ​panic attack, the main symptom of panic disorder. These attacks are characterized by distressing physical feelings, such as ​chest pain, accelerated heart rate, shaking, trembling, and shortness of breath.

For many people, the physical symptoms of panic attacks are frightening and can be the most difficult to manage.

Anxiety can become such a regular part of your life that you may not even notice how it is physically affecting you. For example, anxiety tends to increase bodily tension, leading to tightness in specific areas, such as the back, neck, and shoulders.

On the other hand, you may be well aware of how panic and anxiety are putting strains on your body, but are struggling to cope with the physical symptoms of panic disorder. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to manage your difficult somatic symptoms. Listed below are ways you can manage the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety:

Change Your Mind

Part of the fear and discomfort associated with the physical symptoms of panic disorder is caused by one’s thoughts. For example, when feeling anxiety-related symptoms of excessive sweating, trembling, or choking sensations, people may become fearful that they will lose control or that others are judging their reactions.

During a panic attack, a person may feel afraid of the consequences of the physical symptoms, fearing that it will lead to a medical emergency. Such fears only heighten this sense of anxiety, possibly causing more intense panic and anxiety.

One way to more effectively deal with your physical symptoms is to work on the way you are responding to them. Some things you can do include:

  • Self-reflection, such as journaling or mood and anxiety tracking, which can help you in exploring your automatic reactions to your symptoms and determine ways to change them.
  • Affirmations are another way you can work towards shifting your thoughts.

How to Use Affirmations

If physical symptoms typically bring on upsetting thoughts, such as “I’m going to lose control,” or “Everyone can see how nervous I am,” use affirmations like “I am okay,” “I have a grip on my anxiety,” or “These physical sensations will soon pass,” to counteract your negative thoughts.

Take Care of Yourself Physically

Studies have shown that nutrition and exercise can impact your experience with panic disorder symptoms. To better manage the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety, consider making some healthy lifestyle changes.

  • Avoid certain foods or drinks that may trigger or worsen anxiety. For instance, an overabundance of certain foods and substances, including caffeine and sugar, can aggravate feelings of anxiety.
  • Physical exercise can help relieve stress and tension felt throughout the body, increase energy levels, and improve mood.
  • Stress-reducing relaxation exercises, such as yoga and meditation can help you learn how to control your body sensations and remain calm in the face of anxiety.

Bring Your Awareness Elsewhere

When physical symptoms become overwhelming, it can help to adjust your focus to more pleasant activities. When anxious physical sensations are on the rise, try to redirect your attention to something else. Think about what activities you enjoy and could quickly change your focus.

For instance, you may decide to:

  • Call up a trusted loved one
  • Engage in a few stretches
  • Listen to some calming music
  • Practice mindfulness meditation
  • Watch a movie

Regardless of what activities you choose, the point is to channel your excess energy into something that you find fun and soothing.

Seek Treatment

If you are experiencing the physical symptoms of panic disorder, panic attacks, and anxiety, it is important to seek help. A physician or qualified mental health specialist will be able to assist you in coping with your physical symptoms.

Treatment will involve getting the right diagnosis, participating in a treatment plan, and following-up with your doctor’s recommendations. By getting the help you need, you can anticipate learning how to effectively manage the physical symptoms of panic and anxiety.

If you or a loved one are struggling with panic or anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Health Service. Panic disorder. Last reviewed July 2020.

  2. University of Michigan, University Health Science, "Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks"

  3. Department of Health & Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia, Conditions: "Anxiety disorders"

  4. Stonerock GL, Hoffman BM, Smith PJ, Blumenthal JA. Exercise as Treatment for Anxiety: Systematic Review and Analysis. Ann Behav Med. 2015;49(4):542-56. PMID: 25697132

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.