Anxiety and a Cold Sweat

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10, 2020

Anxiety and a Cold Sweat

One of the biggest problems with anxiety is that it’s symptoms can ultimately lead to further anxiety. It is very hard to control the extent of your anxiety when you are consistently dealing with issues that make your anxiety worse. That is what often occurs when a person has cold sweats; a feature of anxiety that is both stressful and surprisingly common.

Cold sweats, referred to as night sweats when they occur during sleep,are an unusual and distressing anxiety symptom. Many start to feel as though something else might be wrong, and often allow those fears to create even greater levels of anxiousness.

Cause of Cold Sweats

Cold sweats can be incredibly uncomfortable. It's also not uncommon for your mind to wander and for you to feel like your body is trying to tell you something terrible.

Cold sweats are actually fairly easy to understand. They are caused by the activation of your fight or flight system. Our biological system is designed to respond to frightening situations:

  • You encounter a predator in the wild.
  • You need to react immediately.
  • Your body receives a boost of adrenaline (energy)
  • Your body starts to sweat in anticipation of body heat (fighting/running increases heat).

It is actually a perfectly logical and effective strategy. The problem is that those with anxiety have an overactive fight or flight system. In many ways, it is like their bodies think they are facing dangers that are not there.

The body begins to sweat, which in turn becomes colder, waiting for the response to either fight or flee thus turning the body temperature back up. The body is reacting as if being presented with an extremely dangerous situation.

Night Sweats

The problem is made worse when these cold sweats happen at night. That is because most people with night sweats have a tendency to try as hard as they can to fight them. The harder they try, the more they cause themselves stress, and of course this can cause more anxiety.

Night cold sweats make it incredibly hard to sleep. The lack of sleep causes further anxiety as well. In some cases, enough cold sweats at night can cause you to fear going to sleep, which of course increases your anxiety even further. This type of reaction is very cyclical in nature, which is why it can be hard to cure without seeking help from your doctor or therapist.

Mistakes That Increase the Likelihood of Cold Sweats

To try and prevent cold/night sweats, try to recognise when they begin, instead of worrying about it. Do something for a while that relaxes you and doesn't interfere with the sweating. At night, many people find that walking around for a while can be a big help. The air dries out the sweat and the act of walking helps get blood flowing.

Others find that showering can be a big help, while others simply change their clothes or watch TV, or do some other activity designed to help make them more comfortable.

Breaking the cycle is important, which is why distracting yourself from breaking out in a cold sweat is one of the most powerful ways to control the experience. You cannot stop your body from sweating using anything other than natural means. Your sweat glands play a crucial purpose in your body and without them, your body could heat up so severely that you could become gravely ill.

But of course, this type of sweating is still extremely stressful. That is why the key is to make changes to your current environment that will reduce the severity of your anxiety. We already mentioned the idea of walking around, and that is certainly a big help. You can also try the following:

  • Journal Writing Attacking the thoughts or feelings that triggered cold sweats is important. For many, one of the most common reasons for sweating is negative cyclical thinking. When this occurs try to write down your feelings in a journal, this may help alleviate any low mood or negative thinking.
  • Jogging in the Spot Giving your body a reason to sweat can distract the mind. If you jog in the spot, you'll warm your body up which allows the sweating to feel more natural and less stressful.
  • Panic Recovery Many people get cold sweats during anxiety attacks. If you have panic attacks, you can reduce the severity of the attack by controlling your breathing. Take slow, measured breaths. Make sure you hold your breath at its peak to prevent hyperventilation. Slower breathing reduces some of the symptoms of panic attacks and should help you recover from the sweating faster.

Despite all of these ideas, the reality is that sweating is a natural response to anxiety. So the longer you have anxiety, the more likely you are going to continue suffering from cold sweats. That is why it is in your best interests to find a way to control your anxiety. Only then will you improve your ability to get the sweating to stop.

Questions? Comments?

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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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