Sensations

The Connection Between Anxiety and Body Temperature

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

The Connection Between Anxiety and Body Temperature

There is more to anxiety than just nervous thoughts. Anxiety causes significant physical symptoms. For example, some of these symptoms (such as a pounding heart and tensed muscles) are triggered by the activation of your fight or flight system. Others are triggered by how you behave in response to your anxiety (for example, trying to take faster breaths when you feel like you're hyperventilating, thus making the hyperventilation worse).

Some anxiety is normal and natural. Fearfulness can help keep you safe from harm. But when your fight or flight system is activated inappropriately, even when you haven't been confronted with a realistically threatening situation, that's when you may be suffering from a diagnosable anxiety problem. One of the symptoms that may accompany anxiety conditions is a rapid change in body temperature (although if you experience this symptom, that’s not necessarily enough to say that you have an anxiety disorder, as compared to an appropriate anxiety response). 

Rapid Hot and Cold and Anxiety

Anxiety is linked to body temperature changes in multiple ways, and in some cases, it's possible for a normal change in body temperature to trigger significant anxiety. 

These hot and cold sensations can be frustrating, and when they occur when you're trying to go to sleep or otherwise be comfortable, they can be very disruptive. There are many issues that lead to hot and cold sensations in the case of anxiety. These include:

  • Vasoconstriction The most common explanation for why anxiety leads to body temperature changes is your body's fight or flight response. This is the mechanism that is designed to keep you safe from harm. Those with anxiety have a misfiring fight/flight response, and one of the consequences is vasoconstriction, where your blood vessels narrow. This may cause the body to heat up very quickly.
  • Sweating Sweating is also very common in those with anxiety. Sweating is one of the main reasons that people have cold shivers after their hot flashes and may struggle to warm up again. It's the body's response to vasoconstriction - your body knows it's about to heat up, so it sweats to help you cool down.
  • Over-sensitivity Those that have anxiety may also be over sensitive to heat that is within normal ranges. You may find that when you're already feeling uncomfortable and agitated, extra heat or cold in your environment may contribute to further agitation, and make you more likely to notice any temperature changes.

Other issues can lead to changes in how anxiety affects your body temperature as well. Anxiety can lead to goosebumps, which may cool the body. Hyperventilation can also lead to body cooling. Anxiousness may also cause you to move too much, in the case of agitated pacing back and forth, for example. This may heat up your body further.

Preventing Anxiety Body Temperature Alterations

There are only some aspects of body temperature that you can control. Rapid cold chills, for example, are a specific part of your fight or flight response. They can't be directly controlled, but generally, they don't need to be since they tend to fade fairly quickly after the anxiety has faded.

But when you find that you're getting too hot or cold, and it's lasting for a long period of time, there are several things you can do:

  • Don't Go Online Your first port of call should be to avoid consulting Doctor Google by researching your symptoms online. Body temperature fluctuation is linked to a number of medical diseases, like Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes. But the likelihood you have these simply because you’re experiencing temperature fluctuations is slim, and researching them will only fuel your anxiety. If you're worried, talk to your doctor. If you know you have anxiety, then it's likely that your temperature changes are being caused by your anxiety alone. If you simply can’t resist the temptation and you do end up searching online for your symptoms, remember to take everything that you read with a pinch of salt and don’t jump to conclusions about a diagnosis until you have seen a medical professional. 
  • Adjust Your Clothing Even when your body heat is caused by anxiety, it can be affected by what you're wearing and the temperature in the room. If you're hot, shed some clothing or turn down the heat. If you're cold, add some layers. Your body will adjust to these temperatures, despite the way anxiety is making you feel.
  • Get Up and Walk Around Body temperature is often most disruptive when you sleep. This is commonly referred to as "night sweats." Rather than wait it out, it's not a bad idea to get out of bed for a bit in order to cool-off. Let your body movement cool you down. Those that try to fight night sweats may find themselves too uncomfortable to go back to sleep and fuel their stress further.
  • Distract Yourself Finally, one of the issues that may be contributing to your body temperature is your own thoughts. Often, worries passing through your mind can trigger feelings of fear or stress; this, in turn, can alter your body temperature. Fight those thoughts by distracting yourself from them. You may want to, for example, take a calming stroll, listen to some relaxing music, read a book or practice meditation. Not only will these activities take your mind off your worries for a little, they may calm you down more generally as well. 

You may even want to drink water as well, which can help control your body temperature from the inside instead of just focusing on the outside. Some people find that showers also help.

The Only Way to Cure Body Temperature Changes

Still, the most important thing to realize is that when anxiety is causing these changes to your body temperature, the only thing that is likely to stop them completely is something that addresses your underlying anxiety. That's why I highly recommend you seek out an anxiety treatment that focuses on your symptoms and addresses your individual needs.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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