Pins and needles, or paresthesia as it’s known scientifically, is the sensation you get when you’ve been putting pressure on a nerve for some time causing it to “fall asleep” and stop sending signals. When you release that pressure, your body sends a series of shockwaves back to the area to “wake it up” again. That’s what the sensation of pins and needles are from a physical standpoint, but when we’re suffering from anxiety the process might be a little bit different and accompanied by other physical symptoms such as hyperventilation and an increased heart rate.
These symptoms are often triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our 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. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Pins And Needles?
When our fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in our breathing quickens and becomes more shallow. It can feel like we’re not getting enough oxygen, but actually the opposite is true – we’re over oxygenating our body and lacking in carbon dioxide. To rectify this, we try and breathe quicker and deeper, but this only further oxygenates our blood causing our blood vessels to constrict and exacerbating the existing physical symptoms of an anxiety attack, including pins and needles.
Another reason to consider is that when we’re in this survival mode, we’re hyper aware of our body, our movement, and any sensations that we feel. It’s a part of us being alert to any perceived threats around us. So, even the slightest tingling sensation will be recognised and honed in on. Our awareness of any slight change or threat can cause further anxiety, and keep the physical symptoms present for longer which is not ideal.
How Do I Stop This Symptom?
As this can be considered a circulatory issue, moving the affected area can help to return the blood flow and get those nerves firing signals again. Another technique to consider is slowing your breathing and even holding your breath to counteract the over oxygenation process. This might feel counterintuitive, but rest assured that you’re getting more than enough oxygen, you don’t have to breathe faster.
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.