Behavioral Symptoms

Why Anxiety Can Lead to Extreme Clumsiness

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Why Anxiety Can Lead to Extreme Clumsiness

It's a scene often witnessed in movies. There's a nervous guy trying to impress a pretty girl. He builds up the courage to walk over to her, and suddenly everything goes wrong. He trips, or he knocks things over, or he accidentally drops all of his books/papers. Invariably, he becomes extremely clumsy, and the subsequent embarrassment causes him to run away from his prospective date.

Extreme clumsiness isn't necessarily an anxiety symptom, but it can occur as a result of anxiety, and for some people that clumsiness can actually reinforce their anxieties and make them afraid to be confident enough to live a normal life.

How the Body Becomes Clumsy

There's nothing inherently wrong with being "clumsy." Dropping things, tripping over objects, bumping into furniture - these things happen. Don't worry too much about your clumsiness - worry about your anxiety, because if you could live free of anxiety, your quality of life would probably be greatly improved in several ways.

But for those that live with anxiety, clumsiness really does occur. There are many anxiety symptoms that make clumsiness more likely. These include:

  • Distracted Thinking Clumsiness is more common when a person isn't fully paying attention. When you have anxiety, it's not uncommon to find that your mind is elsewhere. Anxiety affects your brain’s capacity for attention and concentration. Often, your mind is so caught-up in anxious thoughts that you simply don’t have the attention span or motivation to focus attention on other things, like your immediate physical environment. That means you may find yourself bumping into things, dropping things, backing up into object, etc.
  • Shaky Hands Shaking is also a very normal part of anxiety. You depend on your hands to be able to hold things firmly, but when your hands shake that immediately becomes more difficult. Indeed, not only are your hands shaking, but they sometimes feel slightly weaker than they would otherwise, which can make it even harder to hold onto objects or perform actions with confidence.
  • Sweaty Hands Sweaty hands are a symptom of anxiety. Not only can sweat make things slip through your fingers, but sweat can also make things feel different when you try to grab them, which may cause you to be a bit surprised and loosen your grip.
  • Anxiety Hesitation Anxiety can also cause people to give a few extra moments of hesitation that they wouldn't do otherwise. Usually this is because they're actually worried about dropping things or how to react to things, and so they take that extra moment before they perform a task. Unfortunately, such hesitation can actually have the opposite effect, causing people to react too late and make more mistakes.
  • Anxiety Overthinking Similarly, overthinking in general can have some effects on anxiety. As the name implies, overthinking usually involves getting lost in your own thoughts, or focussing too heavily on your anxiety or what’s happening in your body. Nearly every movement in your body occurs automatically exactly how you want it to, when you want it to. When you overthink what you’re doing, you might find this process getting disturbed, leaving you less coordinated.

It's also very important to remember that some degree of clumsiness is completely normal. Just because you drop things or knock over things doesn't mean anything is wrong with you, or that anxiety is causing it. People are clumsy all the time.

But when you have anxiety, you may notice this clumsiness and worry about it more. In fact, you may imagine that you’re actually far clumsier than you really are; and that other people see this in you as well. You might get embarrassed, ashamed, or worried, as though this clumsiness reflects a personal fault or deficiency.

That's unfortunately something that anxiety does - it makes people amplify even the smallest mistake or flaw into an issue that supposedly speaks to a deficiency in their character, even if other people probably wouldn’t see it that way.

Are There Strategies to Overcome Extreme Clumsiness?

Awareness is of course the most important weapon against clumsiness, but sometimes that's easier said than done. The best thing to do is make sure that you're using strategies that make it harder for you to focus on your anxieties, so that being clumsy is less likely. For example:

  • Intense Exercise/Jogging Exercise itself is actually known to be highly beneficial for anxiety, because it is linked to neurotransmitters that improve mood, tire muscles for reduced anxiety symptoms, and burn away stress hormones [1]. But beyond that, exercise also provides a positive distraction, making it less likely that you will focus on your anxiety.
  • Deep Breathing Deep breathing is a relaxation technique that can be very helpful for controlling anxiety and reducing some of the symptoms that can create extreme clumsiness [2]. Deep breathing involves taking slow, controlled breaths while maintaining good posture. Try breathing in through your nose and breathing out through pursed lips, like blowing out smoke. Try breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 3 seconds, and breathing out for 7 seconds. Repeat 10 times and see how you feel. Try to keep your mind on the breathing - when it starts to drift, just gently bring your focus back to the breathing.
  • Less Fear of Embarrassment Sometimes what you really need to do is focus on your fear of embarrassment, since that can often be where much of the anxieties that lead to clumsiness lie. This is usually the result of social phobia (now called social anxiety disorder), which often requires therapeutic input. One method that some people find effective is to embarrass themselves on purpose. For example, you could do this by dressing up in a silly outfit and standing in the middle of a public park while handing out candy or asking people how they're feeling. At first you'll feel extremely embarrassed and fearful, but over time you'll get used to that feeling and learn not to fear it as much. Perhaps you have a friend that could do this with you and support you through the process? If done properly, this could be a good confidence-building exercise and chance to deepen your friendship in a unique way!

These are some basic strategies that can improve your clumsiness. Exercise may also have added benefits for coordination, in the event that you are a slightly naturally uncoordinated person. Ultimately, the way that you manage this is up to you - but remember that reducing your anxiety is likely to improve your quality of life and may have the added benefit of making you less clumsy.

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!

Ask Doctor a Question

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.

Ask Doctor a Question

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