Anxiety is something that, despite affecting a large percentage of people, manifests itself physically in many different ways. Some of these, including feeling like our legs are jellified, can be particularly scary in the moment.
This being said, physical responses to anxiety rarely occur in isolation. Physical symptoms of anxiety 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 Make Your Legs Feel Like Jelly?
There are a couple of reasons that our legs feel like jelly during an anxious episode, both of which are tied to this fight, flight or freeze instinct that originates in our caveman brain. Firstly, when adrenaline is released, our muscles tense, preparing to run away or strike out at the perceived threat. The longer the perceived threat stays around the longer our muscles are tensed until they become so fatigued by the excess exertion. Think about it like the day after a workout when your muscles feel completely floppy and sore because of what you put them through the day before – the sensation is similar here.
The second reason is to do with the change in blood flow once our fight, flight or freeze response is activated. Once this process begins, our body redirects blood and oxygen towards the major muscles and organs in order for us to flee or attack. This is often accompanied with faster, more shallow breathing or hyperventilation, which over oxygenates the blood and lowers the amount of carbon dioxide in our body. In short bursts, this is fine, it’s how we breathe when we sprint, but over long periods of time it can leave us woozy and dizzy, making us feel like our legs are jellified.
What Can I Do About This Symptom?
As this symptom appears to be mostly circulatory, the best way to alleviate this symptom is to get moving. Walk around, wave your legs about, wiggle your toes – anything to circulate the blood back around the body and loosen the muscles back up.
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.