Looking pasty or feeling like you’ve lost colour in your face might happen for a whole variety of reasons, however it is one of the more common symptoms of anxiety. This being said if you’re feeling pale for long periods of time and are concerned it’s always best to consult with your doctor.
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 Make You Look Pasty?
When your body activates your fight, flight or freeze response a few things happen. Your heart rate increases, circulating blood and oxygen to the areas that need it most. Your breathing becomes shallower and perhaps you try to hold your breath which causes oxygen levels to drop. Your body temperature increases so your blood vessels start to restrict blood flow to certain areas that are deemed “non-essential” for fighting, fleeing or hiding from the perceived threat. Your face is one such place.
So, in this survival mode, the blood is circulated away from your face primarily to reroute it to the larger muscles but also to cool down the body. The low oxygen levels in the blood can also cause someone to look pasty.
How Do I Stop This Symptom?
From a circulatory perspective, movement and exercise are the best ways of getting the blood and oxygen moving back around your body, including in your complexion. You can also try breathing exercises, using deep, slow and long breaths to maintain the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.
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.