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Is Restlessness a Form of Anxiety?

Feeling restless can be an uncomfortable and frustrating experience. You may have the urge to move around or find it difficult to relax and sit still. While occasional restlessness is normal, some people deal with chronic restlessness that significantly impacts daily life. This type of ongoing restlessness is often a symptom of anxiety.

What is Restlessness?

Restlessness refers to feelings of agitation, unease, and an inability to relax. When restless, you may:

  • Fidget, pace, or shift positions frequently
  • Have urges to move around or leave the situation you’re in
  • Feel fidgety and unable to sit still
  • Have difficulty concentrating or relaxing
  • Feel bored, distracted, or impatient
  • Feel jittery, keyed up, or on edge

Restlessness can be a temporary state that comes and goes. But for some people, the feelings of restlessness are constant or keep recurring frequently throughout the day. This chronic restlessness may be accompanied by anxiety or anxiety-related disorders.

The Link Between Restlessness and Anxiety

It is very common for restlessness to occur alongside anxiety. In fact, restlessness and agitation are considered hallmark symptoms of anxiety disorders.

Experts believe there is a strong neurological connection between restlessness and anxiety. During times of stress or perceived threats, the sympathetic nervous system activates, triggering the body’s fight-or-flight response. As part of this response, stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline surge throughout the body. These hormones cause physical arousal symptoms like a pounding heart, sweaty palms, muscle tension, and restlessness.

Additionally, worry and rumination – common thought patterns in anxiety – can also contribute to feelings of restlessness. Going over and over a distressing thought can stir up mental agitation and the urge to escape or react.

When looking at the diagnostic criteria for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and other anxiety disorders, “restlessness” and “being on edge” are consistently listed as main symptoms. Other common symptoms that tend to co-occur with restlessness include muscle tension, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances.

Restlessness Caused by Different Types of Anxiety

While restlessness goes hand-in-hand with many forms of anxiety, some types are more closely linked to chronic restlessness than others:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Since restlessness and worry are defining features, GAD commonly causes restlessness.
  • Panic Disorder – The abrupt feelings of fear and doom can translate into agitation between panic attacks.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – The worries over evaluation and scrutiny can build restlessness before/during social situations.
  • PTSD – Feeling “on guard” and unsafe can manifest as restlessness and hypervigilance.
  • OCD – The urges and uncertainty in OCD often lead to chronic restlessness and anxiety.
  • Anxiety medication withdrawal – Ceasing anxiety medication may temporarily cause increased restlessness.

Getting Help for Anxiety-Related Restlessness

Living with constant restlessness can seriously impact your daily functioning and quality of life. If anxiety is causing you to feel chronically restless, speak with a mental health professional. A psychiatrist or therapist can help diagnose any underlying anxiety disorder that may be contributing to your symptoms.

Psychotherapy techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are very effective at relieving anxiety-related restlessness. Medication may also help in some cases – certain anti-anxiety meds like SSRI antidepressants can reduce agitation along with other anxiety symptoms.

Implementing stress management techniques, getting regular exercise, avoiding stimulants, and using relaxation practices like meditation and deep breathing exercises can also help quiet feelings of restlessness. Cutting back on caffeine, ensuring you get enough sleep, and finding constructive ways to channel nervous energy are other lifestyle remedies to consider.

The bottom line? If anxiety is robbing you of calm and disrupting your daily life, seek professional help and support. There are many effective solutions available to help manage anxiety-fueled restlessness. With proper treatment, you can minimize restless symptoms and start feeling more relaxed, focused and still.