Anxiety can cause a lot of frightening conditions, especially if you find yourself worried about your health often. Muscle spasms are one such condition. Many people experience strange muscle spasms with anxiety, and in some cases these spasm can cause significant distress and further anxiety.
Muscle spasms are sudden, involuntary muscle movements. They're often very small, like a twitch or kicking out, and they usually come and go fairly quickly. They may also be cramps - long, drawn out muscle pain that is also considered a type of muscle spasm. Both of these may be caused by anxiety.
Are Your Spasms from Anxiety?
Anxiety activates the fight or flight response and affects hormones, both of which can cause muscle spasms. It also means you have some severe anxiety. Score your anxiety symptoms and compare your anxiety to others by taking our free 7 minute anxiety test.
Causes of Muscle Spasms From Anxiety
Muscle spasms occur often, and not just in those with anxiety. Many people experience spasms after running or spasms while dehydrated. If your spasms are becoming a concern, talk to a doctor. Also, take my free 7 minute anxiety test to learn more about other symptoms of anxiety.
Muscle spasms are rarely something to worry about unless they're severe. It's never a bad idea to visit a doctor, but most muscle spasms are harmless. Even those that people worry are caused by anxiety are caused by nothing related to a health condition. The most common causes of spasms include:
- Muscle Tiredness/Fatigue
- Unused Muscle
Anxiety is a disorder that makes people assume that even normal physical sensations that most people simply ignore are caused by something more serious. People experience muscle spasms and tell themselves it must be something worse, like diabetes and multiple sclerosis. These types of worries are a side effect of anxiety.
Anxiety can also cause their own muscle spasms. The most common reasons for spasms include:
- Muscle Tension Anxiety causes a considerable amount of muscle tension, and muscle tension can lead to both cramping and spasms. Muscle tension is a lot like exercise - it tires out the muscles and causes them to spasm as a result.
- Adrenaline Rushes Anxiety can also cause considerable excess adrenaline. Adrenaline excites the nervous system, and when it courses through your muscles it can make them "need" to move. Remember, anxiety is the activation of the fight or flight system. Your body is preparing to fight or flee, and so it's no surprise that your muscles get restless.
- Inactivity Those with anxiety are less likely to be active than those without anxiety, presumably because their anxiety leaves them more drained and less energetic. Inactivity depletes resources from the muscles, and the muscles respond by being over-excited, leading to muscle contractions.
- Dehydration For reasons that are not entirely clear, those with anxiety also are more prone to dehydration, which means more muscle spasms. It may be because the fight or flight system uses up a lot of water via sweating and urination, and most people don't drink enough water anyway.
There may be other potential causes as well. During anxiety and anxiety attacks, the body experiences severe stress, and to respond to that stress it uses up nutrients in the muscles and bones, like magnesium. These nutrients may be necessary for proper nerve functioning, and in some cases can cause your muscles to contract or spasm as a result. These are all potential links between muscle spasms and anxiety.
How to Control Anxiety Muscle Spasms
Muscle spasms are involuntary reactions, and they generally go away within a few minutes. That means that there isn't much you can do in a middle of a spasm to stop it, and if you're still struggling with anxiety you're likely to keep struggling with muscle spasms. However, there are a few things you can try to reduce not only the spasms, but how much worry the spasms cause you.
- Move More Because those with anxiety tend to be inactive, moving more often can decrease the likelihood of a spasm. Getting up and walking around more often is a simple and easy way to start, and can quickly have you getting the blood flowing through your muscles.
- Exercise Exercises uses up unused adrenaline, which in turn should decrease the likelihood of a spasm. Exercise itself may increase spasms, however, as the muscle recovers. But in these cases your brain will process the exercise as an "excuse" for the spasm. If you're someone that responds to your spasms with anxiety, you may experience less anxiety knowing your spasm was caused by your workout.
- Drink Water Of course, hydration is always an important tool for reducing muscle spasms. If your drink is fortified with electrolytes it may be beneficial as well, as electrolyte loss may also be the cause of some spasms.
You can also consider taking vitamin supplements like magnesium, and some experts recommend stretching when the muscle has a tendency to spasms.
Still, all of these are only temporary solutions. If you have anxiety muscle spasms, then your spasms will continue if you're still suffering from anxiety. I strongly recommend you commit to an anxiety treatment in order to stop your anxiety forever.
I've worked with hundreds of people suffering from muscle spasms in the past. Start with my free 7 minute anxiety test. It's a revealing test that will teach you more about your anxiety and get you started with the right treatments.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.