Anxiety, Cold Sensations and Chilliness

  • Cold sensations are very common when someone has severe or chronic anxiety
  • The most common cause is sweating, but anxiety leads to several changes that can cause cold sensations
  • Anxiety may also cause a person to feel more sensitive to “normal” physical sensations
  • Altering your breathing rate may help calm the cold sensations at the time
  • Long term anxiety management is going to be important for stopping future chilliness
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated February 12, 2021

Anxiety, Cold Sensations and Chilliness

The physical symptoms of anxiety are often the most problematic. While the worrying thoughts and the feelings of losing control are the hallmark of anxiety, it's often the physical symptoms and sensations that cause the most disruption - and in some cases confusion - in the lives of those who suffer from these disorders.

Feeling cold and chills are both symptoms of anxiety that can genuinely hurt a person's quality of life. In many cases the chilliness is fleeting, but regardless of whether or not the cold feeling lasts, it is a symptom that can cause significant concern in those that don't understand its causes.

The Many Causes of Cold Sensations

Cold sensations and chills are known to occur when you have a fever or ill health, and may even occur when you have low blood pressure or poor circulation. Only a doctor can test you for these conditions.

But that shouldn't stop you from learning more about anxiety, because anxiety genuinely causes not only cold chills, but also a host of different physical sensations that can easily disrupt your life. 

Cold Chills and Anxiety

There are actually many different causes of cold sensations that may occur when you have anxiety. It's a common symptom that few people talk about because most cold symptoms only last for a short time. Some of the most common causes of these chills include:

Cold From Sweat

Anxiety is essentially a poorly functioning fight or flight system. When your fight or flight system is activated, your body gets a rush of epinephrine/adrenaline that actually heats your body up considerably. When your body heats up, you sweat, and when you sweat, cold air makes you feel very cold.

It's not uncommon for those with anxiety to have hot and cold sensations, and in some cases the heat may be less obvious (especially on a warm day) and the cold is the issue that causes the most distress. Cold from sweat is nothing to be concerned about, although the anxiety that causes that sweating may have you on edge.

Cold Hands and Feet From Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation may also be the cause of your cold sensations, particularly if they are in your hands and feet. Those who have anxiety may be more prone to hyperventilating, which is when your body has more oxygen than it needs because breathing too quickly caused you to dispel your carbon dioxide. Your body needs carbon dioxide to operate.

When you're low on carbon dioxide, it often feels like the opposite - it feels like you're not getting enough oxygen, so you continue to try to take in more air than you need and continue to hyperventilate. This causes your blood to flow less efficiently, which may cause your body to cool down - especially in areas far away from your heart, like your hands and your feet. Once your hands and feet are cold, it often feels like your whole body is cold.

Cold Chills From Fear

Many people experience cold chills when they are suddenly flush with fear. This is incredibly common before anxiety attacks. Those that realize they may be about to experience a panic attack or those that fear it because they have felt one of their common triggers often get a cold chill up their spine. Those who simply have frightening thoughts may have experienced this as well.

This is also the activation of your fight-or-flight system. It's not entirely clear why the body decides to experience these chills. They appear to be the result of epinephrine/adrenaline being immediately released from your symptom, and are very likely your body's preventative measure to ensure that the subsequent adrenaline doesn't cause too quick an increase in body temperature. In a way, your body may be cooling you down before you heat up so that you don't heat up as much or as quickly.

Over-sensitivity to Normal Cold

One also cannot overlook the likelihood that you may have simply become more sensitive to when your body is cold.

Those who suffer from anxiety - especially panic disorder - tend to be more sensitive to all physical sensations. Physical sensations that they may otherwise ignore become something they cannot help but focus on and notice. It's actually a side effect of the condition.

So when you feel colder, your mind may interpret it as something being wrong, when in reality you may simply be slightly cold. Someone without anxiety would likely shrug it off, but those with anxiety feel the cold rush over them as though their whole body is ready to shiver, and this leads to further anxiety and a belief that the cold is caused by something more.

How to Eliminate Cold and Cold Chills

Generally the best way to alleviate the cold is to do the same thing that you always do when you're cold - dress warmer. If you need to, turn on the heat in your home. Even when your cold is caused by anxiety, it's still cold like any other, and the warmer you are the less cold you'll be.

If you're hyperventilating, you need to adjust your breathing to allow your body to regain healthy carbon dioxide levels. If you're just experiencing cold chills, there's very little you can do - chills are a lightning fast response that you simply need to wait out, and eventually they should go away.

Unlike other symptoms of anxiety, body heat and cold sensations are not something in your control. If your anxiety is activated, these are feelings that you're going to experience whether you want to or not, so the best way to cure them is to make sure you suffer from less anxiety.


Anxiety can cause sweating, changes in blood pressure/blood flow, and other issues that can all lead to feelings of chilliness, cold, or shivers. Typically, once the cold sensation occurs, there is very little to do to control it, but in the long term, anxiety management is needed to stop frequent or recurring cold feelings.

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

– Anonymous patient


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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