Anxiety and panic can both result in numbness and tingling in the hands, face, and other parts of the body. When a person feels anxious about their health, these symptoms may worsen their anxiety.
When a psychological issue underlies physical problems, doctors call the symptoms psychogenic. Usually, psychogenic numbness is not dangerous and typically gets better with anxiety treatment.
In this article, we explain how anxiety and panic attacks may lead to numbness. We also discuss some other common symptoms of anxiety and when to contact a doctor.
People with anxiety disorders experience physical symptoms as well as emotional and psychological ones. Numbness and tingling are among the most common complaints.
While people who experience this type of numbness usually notice it in the hands or feet, it can occur anywhere in the body.
In some people with anxiety, numbness can initiate an intense cycle of numbness and anxiety. This happens when a person notices the numbness, has a panic attack as a result, and then feels even more anxious and numb.
Some people also note additional symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate, that may further compound the anxiety and numbness.
Anxiety can cause numbness in several ways.
During moments of panic, the blood vessels constrict, increasing heart rate and blood pressure. This reduces blood flow to different body parts — the hands and feet in particular — potentially causing tingling, numbness, or a cold feeling.
Feeling anxious also changes behavior. A person may unconsciously tense their muscles, which may lead to unusual or numb muscle sensations.
Some people respond to intense fear by “freezing.” This may cause them to hold their bodies in a position that would otherwise be uncomfortable, such as sitting on a foot or with their legs tightly crossed. This can trigger numbness and tingling.
Moreover, people who self-medicate their anxiety may experience numbness as a result of using drugs or alcohol. Some drugs may cause temporary numbness when a person is experiencing the feeling of being “high.”
Additionally, excessive use of alcohol can cause alcoholic neuropathy, which occurs when alcohol has damaged the peripheral nerves. This in turn may lead to numbness and tingling that persists even when a person is no longer feeling anxious.
Some evidence suggests that, in rare cases, certain antianxiety medications may also lead to numbness. A
Numbness from anxiety occurs due to the anxiety itself. It is therefore essential to treat the underlying cause of the anxiety and not the symptoms.
Some treatment options include:
- antianxiety medication
- self-care strategies, such as getting exercise or reducing exposure to stress
- grounding or breathing exercises to help a person regain a sense of control
- support from family and friends
- education about anxiety, including how it may cause feelings of numbness
It is important to note that people with anxiety can also have other conditions that result in numbness or tingling. Therefore, if the anxiety gets better and the numbness does not, or if the numbness is constant, a person should seek medical attention for the numbness as a separate issue.
Some other potential causes of numbness include:
- nerve damage due to an injury or conditions such as diabetes
- spinal cord or head injuries
- circulation issues
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- nutritional deficiencies
- certain medications, such as chemotherapy agents
Numbness is not a medical emergency unless a person experiences other symptoms, such as chest pain that does not get better when the anxiety eases.
Similarly, anxiety can feel like an emergency, but the feeling of panic usually goes away on its own. While chronic anxiety can have a negative impact on a person’s health and quality of life, a panic attack in itself is not fatal.
However, a person should contact a doctor if:
- their anxiety improves but the numbness does not
- the anxiety interferes with their daily life or relationships
- the numbness follows an injury, is constant, or seems to be getting worse
- home treatment does not work
- the anxiety medication is not effective or stops working
- the anxiety or numbness occurs after a person started taking a new medication
Numbness is not the only manifestation of anxiety. Other symptoms
- shortness of breath
- a rapid heart rate or a feeling that the heart is skipping a beat
- pain or tension
- a feeling of cold
- brain fog
- inability to focus
- intrusive thoughts
- preoccupation with dying or other potentially scary notions
- trouble sleeping
- inability to relax
The specific pattern of anxiety a person experiences often depends on the diagnosis.
For example, people with generalized anxiety may feel anxious or have physical symptoms. Those with panic disorder may experience sudden bursts of intense physical anxiety that is so severe that it feels like they are dying.
People with post-traumatic stress disorder, on the other hand, may have flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories.
Numbness is a common symptom of anxiety. That a person experiences it does not necessarily indicate the existence of an underlying condition.
It is advisable to focus on addressing the causes of the anxiety and seek treatment for it.
However, if the numbness persists even when the anxiety eases, a person should consult a doctor to rule out other potential causes.