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What are Somatic Symptoms of Anxiety?

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Nyang

Elizabeth teaches counseling classes at the university level, has a private mental health practice and a doctorate degree in counseling psychology.

Somatic symptoms of anxiety are symptoms that affect the body, causing the person to feel unwell. Determine the common somatic symptoms of anxiety and explore the types, diagnosis, and treatment of anxiety disorders. Updated: 01/12/2022

Anxiety: Somatic Symptoms

His heart rate is up and he feels very anxious and scared. But he's not watching a horror movie on TV. This is how Michael feels at least three times a week and he doesn't know why. He often feels ill and uncomfortable at work. So Michael meets with a mental health counselor and is diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a mental health disorder characterized by intense feelings of fear and/or dread about specific or amorphous things.

During his session with his counselor Michael describes his symptoms. They include:

  • tightening in the chest
  • sweating
  • jumping or feeling startled from noises or sounds
  • diarrhea
  • rapid heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • problems concentrating
  • problems falling asleep
  • very tense muscles

Michael doesn't experience these symptoms all at once, but he does experience many of them simultaneously during an anxiety attack.

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  • 0:04 Anxiety Somatic Symptoms
  • 1:01 Somatic Symptoms Diagnosis
  • 1:49 Anxiety Disorder Types
  • 2:44 Anxiety Disorder Treatment
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Somatic Symptoms: Diagnosis

Elizabeth is a licensed mental health counselor trained to use the DSM-V, or the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, to make a mental health diagnosis. The DSM is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used in the United States and globally as a primary reference to find clinical criteria to diagnose mental health disorders. Michael lets Elizabeth know that he often feels like he's going to have a panic attack, which is a sudden feeling of acute and disabling anxiety. He wants to know if this is also part of his diagnosis. Elizabeth lets Michael know that, since he's only had one panic attack over the last six month, panic is probably not a major somatic symptom, or a heightened perception of a physical symptom.

Anxiety Disorder: Types

Elizabeth sends Michael to Dr. Nieves, a psychiatrist, for a medication evaluation. Dr. Nieves recommends that Michael first work with Elizabeth to learn tools to reduce stress before taking any medication. Dr. Nieves is also able to rule out any other anxiety disorders. For example, during his session with Michael he also determines that Michael does not have any other form of anxiety disorder, such as:

  • social anxiety
  • obsessive compulsive disorder
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • agoraphobia (or the fear of going outside)

Michael is glad to hear that panic is not a major part of his disorder. While he has only experienced a panic attack once, he shares that he has experienced the other symptoms of anxiety often over the last six months. However, Dr. Nieves verifies Elizabeth's diagnosis and rules out panic disorder.

Anxiety Disorder: Treatment

Sometimes people with anxiety disorders are prescribed medication to help relieve their symptoms. Dr. Nieves often prescribes Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin for clients with anxiety disorders, since they're benzodiazepines, which help diminish anxious symptoms. However, he understands that these benzodiazepines are very addictive, so he uses caution when working with new clients.

Elizabeth has a good reputation for using mindfulness techniques, which are essentially techniques designed to help clients reduce symptoms of anxiety by keeping them present. During their second session, Elizabeth teaches Michael how to do a short sitting meditation, a short walking meditation, and techniques used to change negative thoughts into positive thoughts. Michael also starts a new exercise program; he will walk daily and go to the gym to lift weights four times per week.

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