Top Emotional Signs of Anxiety And Why They Can Actually Be Hopeful

emotional signs

Emotional signs of anxiety are key to determining why you’re feeling stressed out. Let’s take a look at identifying these emotional signs in order to help you assess your startpoint for getting the help you need. 

Firstly, what are “emotional signs?” An emotion is a state or feeling, such as anger, sadness, depression, happiness, love, hope, etc. 

How do we know when emotional signs raise a red flag that you might have anxiety? And curiously, a very prominent emotion for anxiety is…you got it..anxiety. People can experience anxiety, and feel anxious. And they can also feel anxiety about anxiety too, which can make things worse. 

When sleuthing emotional signs of anxiety, it can be helpful to ask two questions:

1) How do I notice when I feel anxious, and 

2) How can I label that feeling so as to frame the experience in a positive, non-anxiety-inducing way? How can I channel my anxiety, turn it around, and use it to encourage positive feelings like happiness, security, and confidence? 

Some of the main emotional signs of anxiety are:

1. Irritation

2. Obsession

3. Fear

4. Sensitivity

Stage one is to identify our feeling, and then…


How Our Body Reacts

It’s one thing to feel an emotion associated with anxiety –  irritable, obsessed, afraid, sensitive, etc. But in order to address our anxiety, we first focus on how our body reacts physically.

Our bodies talk. A physical reaction that has no known physical cause is often the result of feelings of anxiety.  In other words, anxiety can be the cause of many distinctive physical sensations. Here are some bodily reactions associated with anxiety:

  • -Pit in stomach
  • -Catch in throat
  • -Eye twitching
  • -Dizziness
  • -Nauseousness
  • -General achiness, saying “I just don’t feel well.”

Physical reactions are our body’s way of expressing emotions, especially if it’s hard to talk about our feelings, or we don’t realize consciously that we are feeling anxious. Effectively, physical signs can be emotional signs too. 


Now what? Here’s the hope.

Once we recognize our physical signs, we can label them with a feeling that flips the negative anxiety into positivity – namely confidence and excitement rather than trepidation and dread.

We have control of the labels we choose. Here are some examples of transforming emotional signs of anxiety into feelings of empowerment and even joy:


Scenario Physical Reaction (Can by multiple) Anxiety Emotional Label (Negative) Positive Emotional Label
Public speaking tomorrow Aching belly due to butterflies. Scared of choking on words, vulnerable, flustered. Excited, honored, organized, confident.
Mother-in-law coming in an hour Headache Fearful of judgments, competitive, shy. Connected, happy, appreciative.
Midterm exam next week. Dizzy Fear of brain freezing, confusion, rushed. Knowledgeable, calm, self-trusting.


Taking the first example, “Public speaking tomorrow” when you think about being in front of a room of people, you can label the experience as scary and vulnerable, which can lead you to wonder what the audience will think of you which in turn gets you feeling more anxious. 

OR you can label your feelings as excited, honored, organized, confident, etc. You can focus on how you have the chance to share something important and helpful with the audience, which leaves you feeling better and motivated.

It might be surprising, but talking out those two scenarios produces two different emotional reactions. Same experience, same butterflies in your stomach, two very different approaches, and ultimate experiences. 

We often hear:

It’s all attitude

Fake it till you make it

Act as if

These mantras all speak to transforming anxiety into positive catalysts and taking effective action. all of which starts with how we label and think about our experience.

Emotions may seem to be in control, that we are passive to their influence, but this actually isn’t true. We can control much of how we feel by taking control of our labeling to nudge our experience to the good.

When we do this, we interpret the emotional signs of our anxiety in a way that makes us appreciate it as a positive trigger for our success.


It’s About Discomfort, And Then Creating Comfort

Anxiety, in the end, is a feeling of discomfort with a present or future scenario. If we label our discomfort as irritability, fear, sensitivity, then we make it so. If we keep focusing on and can’t let it go, we can become obsessive, exacerbating the issue and driving up our anxiety (rather than down). 

If we feel afraid, we escalate into more acute anxiety. By contrast, when we label the feeling as neutrally as possible (say, unease or uncertainty), we minimize its threat, and start to diminish our experience or it by activating our language and thinking centers of our brain.

Further, if we go ahead and label the feeling as completely positive, we give ourselves the chance to really harness our anxiety to accomplish our true goals.

Labeling is how we co-construct our experience and therefore exert control

Your physical and emotional signs of anxiety can be your friend – windows into your experience over which you have much more control than you may think. Because no matter what discomfort you sense in your body, how you label it will determine how you actually experience it. 

Give it a try, step by step. 


Want to find out how anxiety affects you? Take my survey.





Alicia H. Clark, PsyD

Leave a Comment