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Can Anxiety Cause Muscle Weakness?


Muscle weakness or atrophy can happen for a huge variety of reasons including lack of use, dehydration, low blood sugar, poor sleep quality and many, many more. As always, if you’re concerned about your muscle weakness, it’s best to check with your doctor. Although muscle weakness can be worrying and irritating, it happens to most of us, and it has been reported as a symptom of 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 Weakness?

There’s a few reasons as to why anxiety might cause weakness in the muscle, 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, feeling weaker than usual. Think about it like overuse, when you exercise certain muscles, they tend to feel sore and weaker the next day, but it’s not a permanent state. 


Another reason is during this survival mode our breathing quickens and becomes more shallow, causing something called hyperventilation. When this happens, we’re actually over oxygenating our blood so our vessels constrict, causing us to feel lightheaded and weaker overall. 


Finally, when fight, flight or freeze is activated, it takes up a lot of our body’s energy reserves. We’re overstimulated, on high alert, in order to tackle the perceived threat, so all our survival processes are running at 100%. It’s exhausting. So, when the perceived threat passes, our body feels fatigued, and that’s because our blood sugar levels, our quick release energy supplies, have dwindled.


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, 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. Another method is to level out your blood sugar with an energy boosting snack and keep hydrated.


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.