If you are experiencing anxiety and someone asks if you are okay, your answer will likely be something along the lines of “I’m feeling really tense.” That is because “tense” is exactly what you are: the fight or flight chemicals your body releases in response to anxiety are making your heart pound, your body sweat, and causing muscle tension in the neck and chest. These symptoms can be very uncomfortable and even painful.
While armpit and chest aches can have other sources, as can excessive sweating, the anxiety may be playing a role. It is important to find out how much of a role they may be playing in your underarm pain and unexplained perspiration, and what you can do to relieve these symptoms. You can do this by eliminating any other possible causes and by addressing your anxiety directly.
How Anxiety Can Cause Underarm Pain
Every part of your body is affected by anxiety. But of course, your underarm pain isn't the only issue that occurs when you're anxious.
You may be wondering, what do my armpits have to do with how anxious I get? The fact is, there are many different issues that can lead to underarm pain – some of which are directly caused by anxiety, some of which are caused by other symptoms of anxiety that seem to have an effect on the armpits.
Let's take a closer look at the anxiety symptoms that can lead to underarm pain:
- Rapid Heart Rate Rapid heartbeat and the rapid breathing that accompanies it demands that the muscles in your chest work overtime to accommodate the quick movements of your lungs and heart. Overusing these muscles makes them feel tense and can send pain shooting through them when you move in a way that causes them to flex.
- Shaking Shaking happens as a part of the flight or fight response your body engages in, alerting all your muscles to the possibility that they make have to be used on short notice to combat or escape the perceived threat (essentially getting them “warmed up”). However, the adrenaline that shaking sends to your muscles does not get used when there is no fighting or running away necessary. This confuses your muscles and leaves them feeling strained and achy.
- Sweating/Irritation Interestingly, another forgotten cause of underarm pain is sweating. Sweating itself doesn't lead to underarm pain, but what it does do is irritate the skin, which in turn can cause itching or burning that may result in pain. It's an indirect symptom that can still lead to fairly distressing discomfort.
While anxiety can be a cause of underarm pain (and can be addressed in order to make the pain go away), it will be important to be sure that it is not being caused by something more serious, as doing so can actually help relieve your anxiety.
Other Possible Causes of Underarm Pain
It's important to realize that not all underarm pain is going to be caused by anxiety, even if it's linked to anxiety. Another common problem with anxiety is this feeling that "normal" pains are abnormal. For example, you may wake up one day and feel a normal ache under your arm for no serious reason (such as sleeping on it wrong). Those without anxiety shrug it off, while those with anxiety tend to translate that pain as meaning something more serious is going on.
Underarm pain can be alarming because pain from swollen lymph nodes under the arms have been linked to infection and sometimes linked to cancer. In this way, underarm pain can actually cause anxiety, rather than the other way around.
Checking if you lymph nodes are swollen is something you can do yourself: simply feel under your arms and check for any small, hard lumps. If you suspect a problem, it is a good idea to get it checked with a doctor but bear in mind that swollen lymph nodes can be caused by anything from a cold to brushing your teeth too vigorously, and that when you have anxiety you may "feel' a bump that isn't really there simply because you're not used to what your skin feels like.
It may also be a simple case of having pulled a muscle. This could have happened while you were exercising, lifting a heavy object, or even while you slept. A pulled muscle can feel terrible and make it hard to move, so if this seems like a likely cause, just go easy on your arms for a while and the pain from the strained muscle will fade by itself.
Why Anxiety Causes Sweating
Whether anxiety causes “unusual” amounts of sweating depends on how severe the anxiety attack is, how hydrated the person experiencing the attack happens to be, and how much they tend to sweat in general. However, a well-hydrated person experiencing a severe anxiety attack may well produce unusual amounts of sweat when agitated.
Sweating when you are anxious is just your body’s way of regulating your core temperature. When your heart beats rapidly, your body is alerted to produce sweat to keep itself from overheating due to all the core-warmed blood your heart is rapidly pumping through your system. Interestingly enough, underarm sweat (the place where we notice sweat most) may also have the purpose of “lubricating” the arm to prevent discomfort caused by chafing.
When you are anxious, it is healthy to sweat to keep your core temperature down (though the extra armpit sweat as lubrication is not too helpful, since you don’t really need to fight or run away from anything when you are nervous due to anxiety). However, it is also possible that you sweat too much, which could be caused in part by other factors.
Additional Factors in Excessive Sweating You may sweat even more than you should when anxious due to additional factors.
- Hyperhidrosis If you are completely soaked in sweat after just a minute or two, you may be suffering from a condition called hyperhidrosis. It is believed to be a malfunction of the nervous system that may be hereditary, so it could be a good idea to find out if your parents were diagnosed with it if you suspect that you have it.
- Being Overweight If you are overweight, your body has to work even harder to get blood everywhere it believes it needs to go. More effort for the heart, as well as the extra heat caused by unnecessary fat, tells your glands that they need to release lots of sweat to keep you cool.
- Changes in Medication Switching to a new medication often brings up unexpected and unpleasant issues. Sweating is one possible side effect. Alert your doctor so that they can change your dosage or possibly recommend a different medication entirely.
- Menopause The “hot flashes” associated with perimenopause and menopause can result in brief periods of what may feel like anxiety attacks, with a rapid heart rate, shortness of breath and a feeling of being too hot accompanied by excessive sweating. If you are a woman in her forties or even her mid to late thirties, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor to find out if menopause is what’s really going on.
Checking to make sure these factors are not influencing your anxiety symptoms (and addressing them separately if they are) is a healthy precaution to take. In addition, you can use the self-care tips below to reduce your anxiety overall and decrease the likelihood of experiencing uncomfortable side effects like underarm pain and excessive sweating.
Self-Care Tips To Prevent Underarm Pain and Excessive Sweating
The following tips can help keep your anxiety-induced sweating and muscle pain at bay, as well as putting you in a more relaxed frame of mind on a daily basis.
- Get Massages Getting a massage, whether from a professional masseuse or from a friend or loved one, is a great way to relieve both anxiety and muscle tension. Simply touching or being physically touched by another person has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety.
- Practice Yoga People of all ages, shapes and sizes can practice yoga. Yoga helps stretch your core muscles, keeping them flexible and strong. This will help prevent tension and the ache that comes from overusing your core muscles.
- Eat a Healthy Diet As the world shifts more towards organic fruits and vegetables, cruelty-free vegetarian and vegan diets and revolutionary eating choices like the “paleo” and “raw food” diets, alternative healthy eating styles are becoming more and more popular and viable. Jump on a healthy or ethical bandwagon and find the “happy weight” that doesn’t lead you to sweat more than you should.
- Exercise 3 Times a Week Keeping your body fit is something you can do on your own in almost any way you can imagine: by running, swimming, hiking, biking, or just taking a walk down the road and back. As long as you do it for 30 minutes 3 times a week, you will be moving your muscles and keeping them loose and relaxed, as well as encouraging your body to produce the endorphins or “happy” chemicals that are the hidden anxiety-reducing bonus of exercise.
- Drink Your Water Though this won’t keep you from sweating, it will help you from making your anxiety worse when sweating threatens to dehydrate you. Keeping a bottle of water handy will not only prevent dehydration symptoms like headaches and dizziness that can set off anxiety, but it will also reassure you by being there to replenish your 80% water content whenever you need it to.
- Take a Break From Deodorant Some deodorants and antiperspirants can irritate the skin when exposed to too much sweat. If your pain feels more like a burning or irritation, take a short break from those chemicals to give your arm a chance to breathe naturally.
Following these instructions and checking to make sure that there are no underlying problems affecting your underarm pain and sweating symptoms will help keep you mentally and physically comfortable, relaxed and healthy.
Still, when your underarm aches are caused by your anxiety, it's not uncommon to find that you simply need to control your anxiety in order for these aches to decrease.