Can anxiety cause weird body sensations
Anxiety can cause weird body sensations that can affect the skin such as feelings of numbness, prickling, itching or burning. Nervousness or shock is associated with sweating, rapid breathing and a faster heartbeat. Muscles can weaken like jelly, tremble or seize, which can lead to burping, constipation, feeling sick or IBS symptoms.
What weird body sensations can be caused by anxiety?
Anxiety, nerves and shock affect the body in mysterious ways. Most of us have experienced queasiness, sweating, rapid breathing and a racing heart before a scary exam or after physical injury like a bad fall.(1) It can also cause some weird body sensations that can affect the skin, and scalp, such as a feelings of numbness, prickling, itching or burning. Muscles can weaken like jelly, tremble or seize. When this happens in the gut, it can lead to feeling sick, IBS symptoms or constipation.
All of these symptoms can be potentially frightening and cause more worry. Understanding how anxiety causes these strange sensations can remove a lot of the fear factor. If symptoms such as sweating or prickling skin can be seen as a physical effect of something that can be managed, it can help you feel a bit more in control. As well as this article, the A.Vogel blog has many articles on stress and anxiety that you may find helpful and informative
Breathing becomes shallow and rapid when stress or anxiety is experienced
Breathing becomes shallow and rapid when stress or anxiety is experienced. This is a winning strategy when you are running for a bus or shouting at your incorrigible husband. In the short-term, it ensures that you are getting enough fuel (oxygen) to propel you onto the bus or to have the last word. This natty biological feature is called our fight-or-flight impulse.
Rapid breathing (or hyperventilation), that you experience in fight or flight mode, is not an effective, or desirable way of breathing on a daily basis. Every breath we take in contains oxygen needed by all of the cells in the body for staying alive. The oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried about and delivered by our red blood cells. While they are doing the rounds, they collect waste carbon dioxide from all the cells in the body and bring it back to the lungs for disposal.
Only a portion of the carbon dioxide is released from the lungs when we are busy pulling in lots of oxygen in short breaths. It causes a build-up in the bloodstream and you can end up with physical symptoms such as:
The skin and the nervous system can react very strongly to feelings of anxiety
The skin and the nervous system can react very strongly to feelings of anxiety, with hot flushes, blushing and sweating.(2) Sensitive nerve cells in the skin allow us to feel sensations of pain, touch and change in temperature. We touch something hot and a lightning-fast electrical impulse is transmitted to the part of the brain that recognises the sensation. Usually, the hand has sprung back before we are even aware of the sensation.
If the nervous system is on constant high alert (or in fight-or-flight mode) it can begin to over-report sensations, and the nervous system can become over-stimulated.(3) This can cause the skin to experience a sensation that isn't there, or to amplify a minor discomfort.
- Itch for no reason
- Hot or burning sensation without exposure to any heat.
A good example of this is thinking about head lice and immediately feeling a crawling sensation on your scalp.
Feelings of anxiety can cause a surge of stress hormones that makes the heart beat faster
Feelings of anxiety can cause a surge of stress hormones that makes the heart beat faster. Much of the blood flow in our body is sent to priority areas - the brain, lungs and muscles – if our body thinks we are having an emergency. The vital functions have the same (often inappropriate) reaction whether we are sitting in the worst traffic ever(!), or experiencing some violent physical trauma. This means that anxiety can increase blood pressure too, as all the blood rushes to the same parts of the body.
This can cause symptoms such as:
All the muscles in the body and our digestive system can be affected by anxiety
All the muscles in the body and our digestive system can be affected by anxiety. Muscles all over the body become tense and can even freeze, and the smooth muscles of the gut are sensitive to the smallest changes. Think of when you have had to carry a heavy shopping bag in your hand for a long time. The weakness and cramping in your hand afterwards can take some time to loosen out and feel normal. Anxiety, with its rush of stress hormones, can have the same effect on your muscles of the neck, shoulders and gut. Feeling stressed every day can cause the follow complaints:
- Muscle spasms, stiffness, chest pain
- Trembling or weakness
- Belching or hiccups
- Nausea or feeling sick
How do I know if anxiety is causing these weird body sensations?
The best way of finding out is to listen to your body and take note of what it is telling you. If you are feeling hot and bothered, try to step back and take a few moments to draw a few deep breaths. Take note of your mood and what is happening around you when you feel itchy, you feel a headache, or you can't stop belching. A relaxation method that works for you is worth investigating - it won't do any harm or necessarily cost you any money. For additional tips, keep on reading for a little bit, I've included some below.
It's important to bear in mind that all of the symptoms and sensations mentioned could be there for another underlying reason. If you experience uncomfortable sensations such as a rapid heartbeat, chest pain or trouble breathing, it's sensible to get this checked out by a health professional such as your GP. For those with underlying health complaints, or panic disorders, reducing the effects of anxiety can help relieve symptoms.
Tips for calming down and inducing relaxation:
Try deep breathing – it's scientifically proven to work – they even teach combat soldiers how to do it. I saw instructions pinned to a loo door recently and I was so impressed. We can all take a few minutes to ourselves in the bathroom, no matter how hectic life gets. The NHS recommend keeping it simple to start with, you'll get better with practice.
- Make yourself comfortable.
- Take a slow deep breath from your belly while counting up to five.
- Hold the breath for a couple of seconds.
- Then breathe out for five - slowly.
- Try to do this for five minutes, but if you can only mange two minutes that's fine.
Walking – I challenge everyone to get outdoors for 20 minutes every day and not feel better. Try it for 10 days and see how well it works.(4)
Get some sleep – it's your body's factory reset, when all your thoughts are processed, memories laid down and repair happens. Sleep deprivation for even short periods can worsen anxiety and mood.(5) Start with keeping a regular sleep schedule, and try to go to bed a little earlier. Caffeine and alcohol can make a big difference to how well you sleep. Try a week without one (or both) of them to see how much sleep-quality improvement you feel. I recently ditched my lockdown habit of a-midweek-glass-of-wine-to-relax and I'm shocked at how much my sleep has improved.
Consider a herbal tonic – Passiflora, Valerian, Avena sativa, Lemon balm, Hops and Chamomile have a long traditional use for soothing frayed nerves and helping the body to relax. Herbal tea is a lovely habit as it can take the place of nail-biting stimulants such as coffee. Tincture drops, tablets or spray options usually deliver a stronger dose than a tea, particularly when made from fresh, rather than dried herbs.
Our Passiflora Complex Tablets contain a lovely mix of Passiflora, Lemon balm and Valerian, together with supportive minerals including magnesium, which contributes to the normal function of the nervous system.
I find Passiflora Complex Spray handy when I'm out and about and need help relaxing - I like the taste which helps me to remember to take it. One of my colleagues likened Passiflora to 'a hug in a bottle' which is a lovely description of its gentle way of lending emotional support.
Finally, don't rule out using small comforts to help ease anxious feelings. Many people turned to pets for company and comfort during lockdown. Apparently, there's a rise in popularity of fake furry bags, as people can stroke them when they are out and feel stressed, and get a similar benefit to stroking a pet! I like a hot water bottle myself (with a fluffy cover). I can't claim that it has solved any major crisis but it's great for soothing period pains, stiff muscles or aches.