Although anxiety has many associated physical and behavioural symptoms, one of the most common symptoms is restlessness. This is where you struggle to sit or stand still and, as a result, can often feel fatigued or struggle to nod off to sleep.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Restlessness?
Ultimately, this symptom is caused by the activation of our fight, flight or freeze response. With the excess cortisol and adrenaline coursing through our body, there’s a lot of energy going unused. Think about when you’re at the start of a race and your feet are in the starting blocks. You’re buzzing with energy, you’re ready to go – it’s the same biological reaction when you go into this survival mode.
As such, we struggle to sit still, trying to use this excess energy through fidgeting. However, operating for a long period of time in survival mode is exhausting – our body is hypersensitive and alert to everything that’s going on around it. So, if the perceived threat doesn’t go away and we’re left trying to rid ourselves of this nervous energy we’ll be very tired by the end of it.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep though. Restlessness means that we have trouble going to sleep, because we’re struggling to stay still enough for our body to relax and calm down. As a result, our sleeping patterns can be fairly erratic.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As we’ve got all the extra energy, the first thing you can do is try and burn it off by exercising. However, that’s not always possible in the moment, so instead you might want to try some calming techniques such as breathing exercises and meditations to relax your nervous system down.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.