One of the words used to describe horror movies is "chilling." The idea is that the anxiety of the horror movie provides a level of fear that sends chills down your spine. Anxiety has often had a connection to "chills," even though the exact relationship between anxiety and these chills often seems so unclear.
What is it about anxiety that causes chills to run down your spine, and why do some people experience these chills more than others?
Are Your Chills From Anxiety?
Chills are common with anxiety, especially frequent anxiety and severe anxiety. Our free 7 minute anxiety test will score your anxiety, compare it to others, and give you more information about how to treat it.
Chills Before Attacks
Some people see chills as a sign that they're about to get an anxiety attack. It may also be the first thing you experience the moment you realize an attack is coming, when the fear of the attack forces your body into full anxiety mode.
Chills are incredibly common, and often the causes of chills relate to the type of anxiety you experience. If you haven't taken my free 7 minute anxiety test yet, start there before reading more.
Anxiety can actually cause chills in several different ways. The most common are as follows:
Rapid Change in Body Heat
As the body prepares for fight or flight mode, it immediately prepares for the heat of battle. In a way, your body instantly adjusts to the idea that you're about to face danger by getting your body ready for warming up (through goosebumps and possibly a chance in the hypothalamus) - something that often occurs during fighting and fleeing. The rush of cold sends your body into immediate shivers, especially since no fight/flight follows to warm it up. Then right afterward your body adjust to the cold, and you often feel normal again.
Chills obviously occur often when you're cold. When you're anxious, your body often sweats (this is to notify you of the fear). Of course, sweating is also designed to cool your body, so you may experience genuine cold chills as a result of this sweat. It's not uncommon to not even realize you're sweating while you're anxious until you get the cold chills, since not everyone notices the increase in body heat until they get colder.
Redirecting Blood Flow
Anxiety and the fight or flight response may also trigger a redirect in blood flow to the areas that the body believes need it most, like the heart. That means that blood is being taken away from the other places that need it, and without blood flow, those areas of the body get instantly cooler. Your body will usually adjust to the heat fairly quickly, but until it does they may feel cold.
Something similar occurs during hyperventilation, which is very common in those with anxiety. Hyperventilation is when you breathe too quickly or breathe in too much oxygen as a result of stress. When you're hyperventilating, your body struggles to move blood around, and this can cool the body. You may feel genuinely cold, or you may simply get chills until your body adjusts.
Finally, chills can occur for a variety of reasons. Chills may be a sign that you're cold, or it may be a sign that you're wowed by some type of amazing music (it's not clear why some people experience chills in some situations). But when you have anxiety, you may overreact to those chills by believing they're caused by something else, or being overly aware of them to the point where you focus on them.
Safe Way to Stop Cold Chills
Some people find that their cold chills upset them a great deal. Cold chills in general cause no harm, and while it's possible for some to last for a while and be irritating - maybe even make it harder to sleep - they tend to come and go and require very little extra work on your end to avoid them.
The problem tends to be the anxiety. Since cold chills are very common during periods of intense anxiety, like an anxiety attack, then the chills generally coincide with something very frightening. In these cases, it's the anxiety attack that you need to target, not the chills.
However, if the chills themselves are a problem, there are a few solutions you can try:
- Bundle Up Chills are still chills for a reason. They can't always be controlled by heat, and often occur during heat when your body is sweating or adjusting, but some people find wrapping themselves up in coats or blankets can help you feel a bit warmer than you would otherwise, and possibly decrease the coldness.
- Walk Around Stimulating blood flow can help too. Getting up and walking around isn't necessarily going to stop chills if an anxiety attack is coming, but they can warm you up a bit and ensure that your body feels like it's at a more comfortable stasis level.
- Breathing Better The way you breathe affects your anxiety as well, and possibly causes some of your chills. Fight any urge you have to breathe deeper. Instead, slow down your breathing dramatically so that it takes as long as 15 seconds or more to try to complete a breath.
If your chills have gotten very bad, it's never a bad idea to see a doctor. Rarely do people see doctors because of chills alone, but there is no harm, and a doctor can help ease your mind about some of your health worries, especially if you're at an age where some of the causes of unexplained chills make occur, such as menopause.
But for most people, you don't need to worry about the chills. You need to worry about the anxiety. I can help there.
I've helped thousands of people with anxiety and panic attacks cure them forever. Start by taking my anxiety test, which compares your symptoms to all others that have taken the test and provides you with information about what your responses mean.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.