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Can Anxiety Cause Neck Tension?


Tension in the neck can happen for a variety of reasons and whilst uncomfortable and irritating, it is largely harmless. This being said, it’s quite a common 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 Neck Tension?

When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode our muscles tense as we prepare to run away or strike out. This is our entire body, including our neck, and in small doses this is completely fine, but when we hold this tension for too long it can cause pain and discomfort.


It’s this process that over time builds up tension and causes muscle soreness, which can result in headaches and posture issues.


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 in the neck to loosen. 


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.