Have you ever been very stressed and suddenly can't feel your hands and feet? Maybe your heart is beating loudly, you hear ringing in your ears, and you cannot catch your breath.
What you may have experienced is called ‘anxiety numbness.’ While it is a rather unnerving feeling, it can happen to anyone. In fact, according to an article in the CBC, one in three Canadians between the ages of 18 and 39 are dealing with varying levels of anxiety.
The American Psychological Association describes anxiety as, ‘An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure.’ Most of us can feel anxious in stressful situations. But when anxiety affects your daily life and impedes your ability to perform routine tasks, it means that you may have an anxiety disorder. It is vital to seek professional help before you establish a self diagnosis.
There are several anxiety-related disorders including - generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on. While we generally associate anxiety with psychological feelings, it can have many physical symptoms too.
Most often, intense anxiety causes feelings of numbness and tingling. This feeling is termed as a ‘paresthesia.’ It can be caused by a myriad of organic illnesses as well as psychological distress.
When the tingling sensation is caused by anxiety, it can manifest in different parts of your body – your hands or feet, parts of your tongue, or a chill down your back. It usually does not have a pattern and tends to have a “random” nature. The good news is, with time and implementation of healthy coping strategies as discussed with your therapist — you can find ways to control it and even stop its occurrence altogether.
Feeling anxious can trigger the ‘fight or flight response.’ The fight or flight response is a survival instinct, one that causes a surge of adrenaline through your body. This can lead to a cascade of successive events.
First, it causes your blood vessels to constrict and shunts blood to the vital organs - the brain and the heart. As a result, there is less blood flow in your extremities, which can trigger a feeling of numbness or tingling. To compound that, another common manifestation of anxiety is shallow breathing or hyperventilation. When you enter a state of hyperventilation, you prevent your body from receiving sufficient amounts of oxygen as you take numerous shallow breaths in short bursts.
The adrenaline burst also causes an increased heart rate, which you feel as your heart pounds in your chest. At times, you may also unconsciously contract and tense your muscles, like when you clench your jaw, or tighten your fists which also contributes to the numb feeling.
It usually lasts about 30 minutes if you are unable to control it. However, with practice, you can learn coping mechanisms to make the events shorter, and eventually put them to an end. While these tips can help you with the physical symptoms of anxiety, true relief will only come from getting to the root of the problem and addressing the cause.
If you feel intense anxiety, try getting out of your chair and going for a short walk. Or try jumping jacks in the same room. Do you feel better? Physical exercise causes blood to surge into your muscles to supply oxygen. The increased blood flow can improve the tingling feeling. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to develop anxiety disorders. It can also help in your healing journey if you are already suffering from anxiety-related disorders.
There are many somatic ways to impact your psychology, and deep breathing is the most tried and tested method. Just three, deep, intentional breaths can curb feelings of stress and anxiety. Ensure that you take a deep breath that inflates your stomach, hold it for a few seconds, and then, slowly breathe out. While the flight or fight response calls your sympathetic system into action, deep breathing summons the opposing part of your autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic system.
Kristoffer Rhoads, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Washington, describes the Parasympathetic nervous system or PNS as the ‘rest and relax’ system. He goes on to explain how both systems are usually active, but anxiety causes your sympathetic system to go into overdrive. Activating your PNS with deep breaths can balance these hormones and reduce feelings of intense anxiety.
There is an array of methods described by different people that aid relaxation. The best way to find out what works for you is by trial and error. Some recommend slowly counting down from a hundred, and others recommend visualizing a happy place in deep detail. Some say a warm bath works wonders, while others relax best by watching funny cat videos.
Journal writing, soothing music, and mindful meditation are additional techniques you can try. All these methods can be helpful, and finding your fix can be beneficial. You can also seek the guidance of a professional Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist, Physician, or a Therapist to guide you in that process.
External stressors like - certain medications (consult with your physician), recreational drugs, excessive caffeine, and alcohol use can contribute to paresthesias. Avoiding recreational drugs and limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption can reduce the intensity and frequency of feeling tingling and numbness.
Anxiety can affect anyone – a child in middle school, an Olympic swimmer, a successful physician, or even therapists themselves!
It can be equally distressing to everyone, especially when it causes physical symptoms that impede day-to-day life. These methods can help you cope with anxiety in the short term, but the most effective long term solutions remain seeking help from therapists, social workers, psychologists, or other appropriately licensed practitioners who specialize in mental health.
At Bloom Clinical Care Counseling and Therapy Services, we are Social Workers registered with the OCSWSSW. We have 25+ years of experience in supporting people experiencing grief & bereavement, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, low self-esteem, stress, relationship issues and other mental health challenges. We do not require any referrals and are always welcoming new clients.
If you are looking for therapists near you in Toronto, Bloom Clinical Care is located at 1200 Markham Road, Suite 306C, M1H 3C3. We also offer virtual therapy options by phone or video call across Ontario. Help is available, and we may be able to help
Let us help you, help yourself.