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Can Anxiety Cause Physical Numbness?


Although anxiety and anxiety attacks are commonly associated with symptoms such as hyperventilation, withdrawal and increased heart rate, anxiety affects everyone differently. As such, there are plenty of symptoms that have been linked to anxiety, some more subtle than others.


When combined with other symptoms such as an increase in heart rate or hyperventilation, anxiety-driven physical numbness can occur, specifically around our extremities such as our hands and feet.


Why Does Anxiety Cause Physical Numbness?

When we’re anxious, it’s rare for physical symptoms to be present in isolation. Common symptoms such as hyperventilation and raised heart rate are triggered by the release of cortisol and adrenaline from our amygdala. This release stress-related chemicals activate our panic responses, or fight, flight or freeze responses. These responses stem from the caveman part of our brain, the oldest part, primarily concerned with survival, which our newer rational cortex grew around as we evolved. As these responses are designed to keep us alive, they happen quickly and affect us physically.


As a part of these panic responses, our body redirects blood and oxygen to the key organs and muscles, preparing our body to either fight our way of the perceived threat, flee it, or seize up and freeze until the threat passes. This often means that parts of our body feels cold or numb, due to this lack of circulation. 


This is also a characteristic of the freeze panic response, as the body often feels paralysed due to fear or uncertainty and our rational part of our brain isn’t on hand to help talk down our survival-driven, caveman part of the brain.


What Can I Do About It?

As this is primarily a circulatory-driven symptom, the best thing to do is to move your body and try and get the blood flowing back to the affected limbs. But, as with any anxiety-based physical symptoms, deep breathing to calm the nervous system is also highly beneficial. 


Of course, this helps us to stop the symptoms in action, but in order to prevent the symptoms occurring, 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.