Anxiety is a strange condition. It has symptoms that make almost no sense until you understand how anxiety affects you on the inside. People think anxiety is simply nervousness and general discomfort, but the reality is that anxiety is so much more than that. Anxiety is an overwhelming condition that causes numerous physical changes inside your body.
One of those changes can lead to a strange condition: cold hands. There are actually several different ways that anxiety can cause your hands to feel cold, and each of them can make the cold incredibly noticeable.
Cold Hands = Anxiety?
Cold hands is never the only symptom, and some people are definitely more sensitive to the cold than others. But anxiety really can cause your hands to be colder than usual. Find out what your symptoms say about your anxiety by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test now.
How Anxiety Causes Cold Hands
Cold hands are a complex symptom, and the extent of cold hands from anxiety depends on the type of anxiety you have. Make sure you take my anxiety test if you haven't yet, since it will give you a better idea of what symptoms related to what disorders and how that affects treatment.
Even though anxiety can cause cold hands, it's not quite as simple as saying that anxiety creates them on its own. Anxiety creates a lot of different symptoms, and all those symptoms interact with each other. Hands that feel cold won't always feel cold, nor are they the only symptom of anxiety. But the following are some of the ways that anxiety can contribute to cold hands:
Fight or Flight System
It starts with the activation of the fight or flight system. The fight or flight system is the basis of all anxiety. It's the activation of a system that causes you to feel and react to fear. Normally if you were to experience danger in the wild the system would be activated and you'd be given the tools you need to flee or fight with a predator.
Anxiety occurs when that system is malfunctioning, and your body is essentially preparing for a fear or danger that isn't there. The mind and body interact, so that malfunctioning system is both caused by and creates nervous thoughts, fears, etc., along with a host of physical symptoms that occur over time as a result of long term exposure to the fight or flight response.
It's a complicated way of saying that your cold hands are the result of the way your body prepares to fight or flee from harm. Your body releases adrenaline. That adrenaline speeds up your heart rate and draws blood towards the areas of your body that would need it most if you were face to face with danger. One of the places it draws blood away from is your hand, and without as much blood moving through your hands, your hands come colder.
Hyperventilation creates a similar response and is also caused by anxiety, but is technically a different issue. Hyperventilation is when you breathe out carbon dioxide too quickly. Your body actually needs Co2, and if you're breathing too fast (very common during anxiety attacks) you're breathing out too much carbon dioxide and ultimately putting strain on your body.
Your body starts to respond to hyperventilation by speeding up your heartbeat and taking in more blood, and that in turn takes away blood from your hands and fingers which can cause them to tingle and possibly feel colder.
One of the simplest explanations for cold hands is simply sweating. When the fight or flight system is activated, your body expects you to be running or fleeing. Those actions heat your body up, so your body responds by sweating in order to keep your body cool.
Of course, your body never really ends up heating up, so in the end the sweat cools your body more than you needed. The hands rarely have clothes on them to keep them warm, so the end result is sweaty hands that are being cooled down by the air, and becoming very cold as a result.
Not all cold hands are the result of changes in your body. Some of them may be the result in changes in your sensitivity. Anxiety can cause what's known as "hypersensitivity," which is when your mind is "sensitive" to physical sensations, which in turn causes you to notice nearly every change your body makes.
By default, when you notice a sensation, it also amplifies. It's like a mosquito bite - if you're not paying attention to it, it tends not to itch as much, but if you are thinking about it the itching is unbearable. That's what hypersensitivity does to you, so those that feel their "cold hands" may simply be sensitive to the way their body feels more as a result of anxiety.
What This Means to Your Anxiety
Cold hands are an irritant, but they say nothing about your anxiety. Experiencing cold hand during a panic attack may be signs that you're hyperventilating, but often the panic attack itself is severe enough that cold hands are the least of your concerns.
One of the reasons that people find cold hands frightening is because they're associated with heart failure, which occurs when your heart is not strong enough to send blood to your hands and fingers. But heart failure is uncommon, and doctors can easily tell if you're suffering from heart failure with a quick checkup.
The solution to anxiety's cold hands is to simply warm them up. Cold is still cold, and it responds well to heat. Wear gloves or stick your hands in your pocket and you should experience some relief.
But unfortunately, the only way to ensure that you're avoiding the cold hands from anxiety is to stop your anxiety.
I've helped thousands of those with cold hands control their anxiety starting with me free anxiety test.
Learn more by taking my test now.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.