Anxiety actually serves a useful purpose. The point of anxiety is to tell your body when you should be afraid - when your "fight/flight" system should be activated. In human history, this was designed to make sure that your mind and body knew it was facing something dangerous.
But these days, many people find that their fight or flight system is activated all the time, without anything that should cause them to feel that reaction, and one of the symptoms of this problem is weak legs, or "jelly legs."
Jelly Legs = Anxiety?
Weak legs can be a frightening feeling, and there are several health conditions that can cause your legs to become weak, such as low blood pressure. Anxiety, however, is often the cause of jelly legs, especially severe anxiety. Take our free 7 minute anxiety test to score your anxiety severity and learn more about how to control your anxiety.
When your legs feel like jelly, standing can feel unusual. It may be accompanied by dizziness or balance issues that are either related to the weakness in your legs, or the direct result of anxiety causing other symptoms and conditions.
If you haven't done so yet, take the free anxiety test I developed for users of this website. The point of the test is to give you the opportunity to learn more about your symptoms and how they're affecting you, so that ultimately you can receive the right method of treatment.
What Creates the Jelly Leg Feeling?
There are several issues that can make you feel as though you're suffering from "jelly leg." The most common occurs as a result of adrenaline.
When adrenaline rushes through your body, your blood goes to the places that your body feels need it most. That means that your blood is rushing to your heart, your brain, and possibly various muscles, and to do that it rushes out of your legs and makes them feel more like jelly.
Other Causes of Jelly Leg
Weak legs may also be caused by muscle weakness. When your body is rushed by adrenaline, your muscles are in a constant state of tension, and eventually they can get very weak or tired. Also, anxiety can cause breathing issues that weaken your muscles and lower/raise your blood pressure, and these may also lead to that muscle weakness feeling.
How to Tell the Difference Between Anxiety Weak Legs and Something More Serious?
Many people suffering from jelly legs worry that they are experiencing some type of health problem. After all, weak legs can be a scary feeling - it may feel as though you can't stand, and that may cause your mind to race as you worry that something is wrong.
If you feel frightened, talk to a doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose any underlying health issues. Generally, however, the following may help you tell the difference between anxiety and another condition for your weak legs:
- Temporary Again, if you're worried that something is seriously wrong with your health, there is no harm in going to the doctor. But generally, when weak legs will regain some of their strength when your anxiety depletes, so the effects of jelly legs are not long lasting. They may recur often as you go through anxiety, but they won't be a constant symptom.
- Strength Usually anxious legs still regain most of their strength. This is not entirely the case as dizziness and hyperventilation can genuinely cause legs to be a bit weaker than normal (as can adrenaline rushes), but leg strength is usually not affected - especially in the long term.
- Other Symptoms Also, weak legs from anxiety will usually have other anxiety symptoms with them. While weak legs can be a sign and a symptom of anxiety, they usually come with anxious thoughts, rapid heartbeat, and other signs of anxiety.
The problem with anxiety and weak legs - as well as other anxiety signs - is that it can be hard to tell if the anxiety comes before or after the weak leg experience. Nevertheless, there are some generic differences between anxiety and a health condition that should hopefully help you realize that your experience is anxiety related.
How to Cure and Prevent Jelly Legs
Because anxiety is a mental health problem, there is a considerable mental component to relieving your anxiety. You'll need to combine a combination of quick fixes and long term treatment options to permanently subdue your anxiety, and ultimately prevent your weak leg symptoms.
Weak Legs During an Anxiety Attack
Another cause of weak legs occurs when you're suffering from an anxiety or panic attack. Often you'll find that you are unintentionally over-breathing. This throws off the oxygen/CO2 balance in your body, and it causes your body to want to sit in order to breathe more effectively.
Quick fixes are not going to prevent all anxiety, but they can help:
- Go Walking If you're not feeling too dizzy (a common symptom of anxiety), try going for a walk. Walking gets the blood flowing and it takes your mind off of your legs. It's also a reminder that you have leg strength.
- Close Your Eyes If you do have a bit of dizziness leading to your weak leg feeling, close your eyes for a while as long it's safe to do so. Your weak legs are generally the result of feeling dizzy, so with your eyes closed that dizziness will affect you less.
- Mantra Meditation There is some debate in the medical community about whether or not mantra meditation is beneficial for anxiety in the long term. However, in the short term, it can help calm you down because it acts as a breathing distraction. The mantras focus your mental energy away from your anxiety, while the meditation gets your breathing under control so that you experience less over-breathing.
These aren't long term solutions, of course, but in the moment when your legs feel like jelly, they can be an effective way to help them regain that feeling of strength.
Long Term Anxiety Reduction
Your next step is to learn to control your anxiety directly, so that it doesn't come back and your anxiety legs don't recur. There are several potential solutions for this:
- Herbal Solutions Several natural herbs are effective for controlling anxiety.
- Anxiety Medications Many medications can reduce anxiety, although they may come with side effects.
- Therapy Therapy can also be effective at reducing anxiety.
Generally, the best place to start is by thoroughly researching anxiety and getting an idea of which symptoms are effecting you and how.
When I've worked with people in the past, I tell them they all need to start by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test. The goal of the test is to give you an idea of how your anxiety affects you, what is likely anxiety and what is not, how your anxiety compares to others and so on. From there, you'll get recommendations for the best treatment options.
If you haven't yet, take the test now.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.