Anxiety is more than just worries. It is the activation of your fight or flight system - the system that tells you when you need to feel fear. The ability to experience anxiety is actually a positive. Without anxiety, you wouldn't run or fight when confronted with danger. It's only when your fight/flight system overacts that you end up struggling with anxiety.
The fight or flight system is designed to both notify your entire body that you're in a fearful situation, and give you the tools you need to handle it. Unfortunately, when you suffer from an anxiety disorder, those same systems end up causing you significant distress. One example of this problem is hot and cold flashes.
Hot and Cold Flashes = Anxiety?
Anxiety excites your sympathetic nervous system in the same way as hormonal fluctuations. That excitement causes your body to heat up, and then cool down. But hot flashes are rarely the only symptom.
Click here to see if your hot and cold symptoms are likely due to anxiety.
Hot Flashes and Health
Hot and cold symptoms can be incredibly disturbing. They may prevent you from sleep and cause you to feel like something is wrong. They occur during periods of intense anxiety, during anxiety attacks, or sometimes simply at night when your mind is too active.
Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your hot and cold symptoms, but these flashes are very often caused by anxiety. If you haven't yet, click here to take my free anxiety test and learn more about anxiety and hot flashes.
The Hot And Cold Experience
These "Flashes" are really just changes to your body temperature. During periods of intense anxiety, your body temperature heats up due to vasoconstriction, which is when your blood vessels tense up as they deliver more blood to the areas involved in fight and flight.
Vasoconstriction causes your body to heat up, and this creates what's known as a "hot flash." Your body heat appears to come out of nowhere, giving it its "flash" effects.
But the body also has a way of cooling itself down after it heats up. As soon as you start to experience heat, your body also releases more sweat. That sweat then reaches the air, and you start to cool down - in some cases becoming very cold. This is the "cold flash." Your body itself isn't necessarily becoming colder, so much as it is reacting to the sweat that it released to cool down after the hot flash.
When these hot flashes and cold flashes occur at night, it's often referred to as "night sweats."
How to Stop Hot Flashes
You can't control your nervous system. The fight or flight response is specifically designed to ensure that in the event of actual danger, you make the right decision to fight or flee. While anxiety may be troubling, its biological purpose is still very useful, and without it you would be in severe danger when faced with a situation that should cause the fight or flight response to react.
So you can't simply "turn off" these flashes on a whim. But you can affect the degree that they disrupt your life, and reduce your anxiety itself to prevent hot flashes from occurring. Many people try the following:
- Keep/Shed Clothing Even though hot flashes occur internally, they're still affected by your environment - especially in terms of your overall comfort level. Wearing comfortable, light fitting clothing and keeping extra clothing on hand will allow you to easily shed or add layers to adjust for feeling hot or cold. Looser clothes may also be helpful, since your sweat won't stick to them.
- Get Up From the Bed Many people find it nearly impossible to fall asleep when they're suffering from night sweats. If that describes your situation, don't wait it out. Get up and walk a bit around your home, or watch a bit of TV. It'll help you cool down, reduce the discomfort you have sleeping on a sweaty sheet, and prevent your mind from focusing too heavily on the way you feel.
- Cool Your Thoughts Hot flashes can be fueled by thoughts. If you're obsessing over a single thought and it appears to be raising your body heat, find a way to get that thought out of your head. You can try a distraction, but a better tool is simply writing the thought out in a journal or on a piece of paper. When your thoughts are on paper, your mind worries about them less because it knows that they're recorded in a permanent place.
- Relaxation Techniques Relaxation strategies are not quite as effective for controlling hot and cold flashes as they are for simply controlling anxiety, because once your body heat starts to warm up it's usually too late to stop it. But controlling your stress may reduce the length of time that the hot flash affects you. Popular relaxation techniques are deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization.
- Drink Water Drinking water may not stop the hot flashes, but it will ensure you feel better when it's over. Sweating can take a lot of hydration out of your body. Refueling it in advance with some cool water can be very helpful. In addition, many find the act of drinking water to be soothing.
Many people try herbal supplements as well, but there aren't many that support the idea they control anxiety hot flashes. Remember, although it can feel like a hot flash lasts forever, they're generally somewhat short lived. It's the way they drain your body that makes them appear to last.
Hot and Cold Flashes - The Cure
Because hot flashes are the result of your sympathetic nervous system overacting, there's little you can do to guarantee that your hot flashes will stop unless you control your anxiety.
Your treatment depends on the type of anxiety problem you're experiencing, your other symptoms, and how they affect you. Different severities of anxiety may also benefit from different types of treatments. Those with generalized anxiety disorder may not benefit from the same treatments as those with panic attacks, yet both can cause extreme anxiety that may trigger hot flashes.
Also, women that are going through menopause and men with low testosterone may also experience hot flashes, and these hot flashes may be made worse by anxiety and stress, but may not be caused by stress. In those cases, it may be important to talk to your doctor about the best way to manage your menopause/testosterone balance, and worry about your anxiety and hot flashes second.
Still, these issues can be cured with the right treatment. I have developed a free 7 minute anxiety test for those living with anxiety hot flashes. The test can be very revealing if you want to learn more about your anxiety, and at the end you'll receive personalized recommendations for treatment.
If you haven't done so yet, make sure you take the test now.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.