Muscle spasms are something that happens to the majority of us at some point. Whether it’s through low blood sugar, dehydration, sleep deprivation or overstimulation, there’s tons of reasons and factors why our muscles might twitch or spasm, and most of the time it’s harmless. Although muscle spasms are symptoms of many wider conditions, it’s also been linked to anxiety.
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Muscle Spasms?
There’s a few reasons why anxiety might cause muscle spasms, the first being that when we go into fight, flight or freeze mode our muscles tighten, preparing to run or fight. In small doses, this is completely fine, but if we stay tense for too long, our muscles become fatigued and start acting out on their own, in the form of spasms as a result of a build up of lactic acid.
Another reason is that when we’re in this survival mode, our body becomes hyperstimulated, which essentially means we’re super aware of everything that’s going on around us and in our body. It feels like we’re really sensitive, like our nerves are on a live wire, so with all this extra energy, our muscles are ready for action, spasming until the energy is used up.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response and accompanying tense muscles, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing and keep moving. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our muscles to loosen and our spasms to stop.
Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.