How to Stop Numbness and Tingling Caused by Anxiety

numbness-tingling

If you ever get numb or tingly feelings in your body, and if you’re also an anxious person, the two are almost certainly connected.

Numbness and tingling are very common physical symptoms of anxiety. They might not sound like severe symptoms to someone who’s never experienced them, but they can be uncomfortable at best and terrifying at worst.

For about a year of my life I suffered with constant numbness and tingling. Usually it was in my hands and feet, but occasionally I’d feel it in my face too. A couple of times I even felt it in my stomach.

The numbness and tingling could strike at any time, but I most often experienced them after I woke up, after a period of prolonged anxiety, and after panic attacks.

These symptoms went on so long it became unbearable. I went to my doctor a couple of times and she said it was anxiety.

I didn’t trust her so I Googled it. Big mistake.

Google told me that my numbness and tingling could be caused by an almost endless list of horrible neurological diseases.

That made my anxiety worse, and that made my numbness and tingling worse.

And yet another anxiety-induced vicious circle began.

In the end, the only thing that helped me was to learn more about the numbness and tingling and their connections to my anxiety.

I’d like to share with you what I learned, and hopefully that’ll help you overcome your own problems with numbness and tingling.

The best place to start is why anxiety causes numbness and tingling in the first place.

Why Does Anxiety Cause Numbness and Tingling?

anxiety-numbness

There are 2 ways that anxiety causes numbness and tingling:

  • incorrect breathing
  • misfiring fight or flight response

Let’s look at them one at a time.

Incorrect Breathing

When you’re relaxed your breathing is slow, steady, and controlled. You breathe in deep, full breaths and your lungs take the oxygen you need and release it into your blood.

As your lungs are taking oxygen from the air you’ve just breathed in, they’re also releasing carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide is the waste that’s left behind from the oxygen you’ve breathed earlier.

You have this process going on all the time: taking oxygen in, letting carbon dioxide out. And with normal breathing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide happens at just the right rate.

But when you’re anxious this delicate process gets screwed up.

Anxiety makes you take faster, shorter breaths, which makes it much harder for your lungs to make the exchange between oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Anxious breathing generally makes you breathe out more than you breathe in, which means you get rid of too much carbon dioxide.

That destroys your oxygen/carbon balance.

Your carbon dioxide levels fall and your oxygen levels rise. When your oxygen levels get high enough it raises the alkalinity in your blood, making the blood vessels around your body narrow.

Narrow blood vessels means it’s hard for blood and oxygen to reach the parts of your body farthest from your heart.

The result?

Your extremities, like your hands, feet, and face, will tingle or go numb, since they’re effectively being starved of oxygen.

Misfiring Fight or Flight Response

The second way that anxiety can cause numbness and tingling is all to do with the fight or flight response.

You’re probably familiar with this response. It’s a survival instinct that kicks in when you’re in danger.

If your life is ever in jeopardy your fight or flight response gets instinctively triggered, causing lots of physical changes that’ll help you to either fight the danger or to run away from it.

Your breathing will quicken, your heart will race, your blood will rush to your large muscles, and your senses will all heighten.

These changes can save your life if you’re in extreme danger, so the fight or flight response is a wonderful thing to have on your side.

But anxiety screws it all up.

If you feel anxious all the time, your subconscious gets confused and misinterprets your anxiety as a sign you’re in physical danger.

So your fight or flight response misfires. In other words, it happens when you don’t need it to.

One of the biggest physical changes that happens as part of the fight or flight response is that your blood rushes to the parts of your body where you most need it if you’re in danger.

That means places like your thighs, chest, and shoulders to help you fight or run, and also to your head to help you think your way to safety.

All this blood has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the areas of your body that aren’t important if you’re in a fight for your life.

Places like your fingers, your toes, your stomach, and your lips.

When the blood leaves these areas they go numb and may also tingle, since they no longer have blood or oxygen in them.

It’s a lot like when your leg falls asleep if you sit on it for a long time.

If you sit on your leg for ten minutes it stops any blood from getting to your foot. No blood in your foot makes it go numb.

When your fight or flight response misfires and the blood rushes away from your foot it’s exactly the same thing.

No blood in your foot equals numbness and tingling.

What Does Numbness and Tingling Caused by Anxiety Feel Like?

woman-foot

You might think it’s unnecessary to explain how numbness and tingling feel, since you probably already know how they feel if you’re experiencing them.

But when my anxiety was at its worst I got a lot of comfort from knowing that my symptoms were a part of my anxiety and not from some horrible disease.

If I quickly tell you how my numbness and tingling felt you can compare it to your own situation and hopefully get some reassurance that what you’re feeling is normal.

If you’re anxiety is causing numbness and tingling, you may feel:

  • numbness in any area of your body – although anxiety can cause numbness in any area of your body, it will most often happen with your hands, feet, and face. The numbness can feel like you’ve lost sensation or that you have sudden weakness in the affected area
  • tingling in any area of your body – this anxiety-caused tingling can happen anywhere in your body, but most often affects your hands, feet, face, and scalp. The tingling can feel like tiny vibrations under your skin or as if something is buzzing inside you. It can sometimes even feel like you’re getting a very mild electric shock.
  • burning in any area of your body – when you experience numbness or tingling due to anxiety it’s because there’s no blood or oxygen in the affected area. At some point the blood and oxygen will return and when that happens it can feel like the affected area is burning. This is the same thing that happens to you when you’re out in the cold and then you come inside into the warm. As sensation returns to numb body parts you’ll experience burning

From now on when you experience numbness and tingling remember this post and realise that what you’re feeling is normal, and that everyone who has severe anxiety has felt these same symptoms too.

How to Stop Numbness and Tingling Caused by Anxiety

breathe

There are several actions you can take to stop your numbness and tingling. Let’s separate them into actions you can take short-term and actions you can take long-term.

Short-Term Actions to Stop Your Numbness and Tingling

These short-term actions will help you to stop the feelings of numbness and tingling once they’ve already started:

  • controlled breathing – when numbness and tingling are caused by anxiety you’re probably not breathing right. If you correct your breathing your symptoms will often quickly pass. To do this, start taking very controlled breaths. Breathe in slowly through your nose and when your lungs are full hold the breath for a couple of seconds. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth through almost closed lips, like you’re blowing on a hot drink. Breathe like this until your numbness and tingling pass
  • movement – if you sit on your leg for a while and it goes numb and tingly, the best way to cure it is to get up and move your leg around. It’s no different when anxiety is the cause of your numbness and tingling. When numbness strikes, get up and move about. Stretch the muscles around the affected area. Bend and straighten your affected arms and legs. If your face is numb, open and close your mouth, tightly close and then open your eyes. As you move the affected body part you’ll bring blood and oxygen back and the numbness should fade
  • exercise – this is similar to the idea above, but taking things to the next level. When your numbness and tingling strike, go for a brisk walk or even a jog, or perhaps go up and down your stairs several times whilst pumping your arms. Light exercise will get your heart and lungs pumping more blood and oxygen around your body, and that will help a great deal in reducing the numb and tingly sensations
Long-Term Actions to Stop Your Numbness and Tingling

These long-term actions will help you to prevent your numbness and tingling from ever happening in the first place.

Try to make these new habits that you perform every single day. Over time these new habits will go a long way toward stopping your numbness and tingling symptoms:

  • scheduled controlled breathing – this is the same as the breathing exercise in the short-term section above. The difference is that you do it repeatedly throughout the day, even when your numbness isn’t there. Every hour on the hour perform the controlled breathing exercise for 5 minutes. The more often you breathe like this, the more often you’ll breathe like this even when you’re not trying to. Intentional correct breathing reminds your body of the right way to breathe, and eventually your body will respond by breathing correctly automatically
  • simplify your life – much of the anxiety that leads to numbness symptoms comes from feeling overwhelmed. If you cut down on your overwhelm your symptoms will be greatly reduced. The best way to stop feeling overwhelmed is to simplify your life wherever possible. Work less, consume less TV and other forms of light entertainment, argue less, schedule your day better, stop buying stuff you don’t need, declutter your home. Simplify your life in any way you can find
  • anxiety timeouts – when your anxiety is constant your adrenaline levels rise until they’re so high that physical symptoms strike, like numbness. If you can give yourself short breaks from your anxiety throughout the day then your adrenaline levels will fall enough for your numbness to fade. I call these short breaks anxiety timeouts. Examples of good anxiety timeouts are short walks, hot showers, listening to music or relaxation sounds, and simply sitting quietly in a peaceful setting for 10 minutes. Do whatever works for you. Give yourself several anxiety timeouts each day

Try to make use of both the short-term and long-term actions. The more of these actions you take the less your numbness and tingling should bother you.

The Takeaway

If you’ve read all of this post then you’re obviously suffering with numbness and tingling at the moment, and you have my sympathy.

These symptoms affected me almost constantly for a year so I know what you’re going through.

But I’m hoping that this post will help your situation in 2 ways.

First, now that you know why and how your anxiety causes numbness and tingling you should find some reassurance. It’s not a terrible disease that’s causing these sensations, it’s just your anxiety.

Second, you now have several short-term and long-term actions you can take to stop your numbness and tingling when it strikes, and also to stop it from ever happening in the first place.

This combination of reassurance and symptom relief should hopefully mean that your days of struggling with numbness-related problems will soon be over.