Top Emotional Signs of Anxiety And How To Take Control

signs of anxiety

It isn’t always easy to understand what’s going on with us, especially when we feel stressed out. But recognizing emotional signs of anxiety can help you determine what’s happening so you can take control. Let’s take a look at a few key emotional signs of anxiety to help you assess the start point for you, so you can understand what’s driving your anxiety and what you can do about it. 

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. Your physical response to anxiety is your first clue to pay attention and get curious about what’s going on.

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. 


Here’s what you can do when you understand your signs of anxiety. 

Once we recognize our physical signs, we can then label them and take more control. Not only does labeling your emotions help lower distress and increase a sense of control according to research, but how you label your emotions can create even more control. 

Since our labels define more of our emotional experience than we may think, according to the science of emotional construction, taking the step of nudging our emotional labels closer to what we want to feel  is actually possible. This is how we can turn negative anxiety into positive anxiety – and invite in the feelings we want to have, namely confidence and excitement rather than trepidation and dread.

Here are some examples of transforming emotional signs of anxiety into feelings of empowerment and even joy:



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, eager to share.
Mother-in-law coming in an hour


Headache Fearful of judgments, competitive, shy. Connected, ready to engage, appreciative of her care.
Midterm exam next week. Dizzy Fear of brain freezing, confusion, rushed. Motivated, focused, excited for opportunity to demonstrate learning.



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, eager, 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. And it all starts with how we label and think about our experience.

Emotions may seem to be in control, leaving us to feel powerless over 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 closer to where we want it to be. 

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, Getting curious, and Taking Control. 

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

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

Further, if you go ahead and label the feeling as positive as possible (while still being truthful to your experience), you give yourself the chance to make the most of its energy, and harness your anxiety toward positive solutions and goals.

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

And taking control is the name of the game when it comes to managing anxiety.

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.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash


Alicia H. Clark, PsyD


  1. Positve Prime on March 9, 2022 at 11:23 am

    This material is fabulous! It’s full of incisive information and the points you make are rational and solid. You are simply amazing! I have never read articles on this subject matter that made so much sense.