While anxiety is best known for its mental symptoms, such as nervous thoughts and worries, it's the physical symptoms that often cause people the most distress. The nausea, the muscle tension, the rapid heartbeat - these symptoms can be both frightening and distressing, with some symptoms genuinely causing a great deal of fear or discomfort that can drastically impact quality of life.
One of the symptoms that can be incredibly distressing is feeling hot from anxiety. Anxiety has the potential to drastically raise your body heat, almost as though you're sick, and depending on where you are, that rise in body heat can be significantly uncomfortable and cause a lot of frustration and misery.
The Rise in Body Heat
Your body heat rises as a result of your fight or flight system. The system itself is actually very useful. When you confront danger, you need your body to be ready to start fighting or to run away. Your brain processes that danger and releases adrenaline. That adrenaline then dilates your pupils to let in more light, pumps blood faster so that you can run or fight, and much more.
Adrenaline also increases your body heat by producing vasoconstrictions - the narrowing of the blood vessels to get more blood to your heart and muscles. Should you need to run away from danger, this mechanism would be useful for keeping you safe.
But when your fight/flight system is misfiring, that can lead to persistent anxiety, and persistent anxiety is a real problem.
You May Have a Malfunctioning Fight/Flight System
A rise in body temperature, also known as a "hot flash," is often a sign that you have an anxiety disorder. Normally your body heat should only rise when you're in a dangerous or stressful situation, and not simply out of the blue when nothing appears to be happening.
But when you suffer from anxiety, it indicates that you have a problem controlling this response. It may be caused by your body, stress or anxiety attacks. There are countless reasons why your fight or flight response could be misfiring, but if you have anxiety and are experiencing hot flashes, your fight or flight system may be to blame.
Why Do We Feel Hot?
Body heat rises as a result of what's known as vasoconstriction. With a functioning fight/flight system, your body needs to be able to prioritize blood flow during times of danger. Your blood may rush to your heart, to gut, or to anywhere that needs it in order to help you feel or fight quickly.
When your blood vessels are constricted, your blood pressure increases, you burn more energy, and your body heats up. A person facing danger benefits from these symptoms. But a person with anxiety may be on edge when no danger is present. This may cause an increase in body heat that can be uncomfortable or even distressing, especially if you were not expecting it.
It's not uncommon for this body heat increase to then be followed by sweating, which may eventually cause you to feel colder as well. All of these are a natural part of living with anxiety, especially intense anxiety.
How to Stop Feeling Hot
That hot feeling can be very disruptive to your life. Those that experience hot flashes at night often report significant problems sleeping, as their sheets start to feel drenched in sweat and their body feels too warm to get any rest. Those that experience it during the day may find that they are uncomfortable everywhere they go. They may even worry that others are judging them, increasing their anxiety and the length of their hot flash.
Hot flashes are not something that you can stop once they've started. They'll eventually stop on their own when your anxiety trigger goes away. But you can control how much the symptoms affect you by integrating the following:
- Sleep in Cooler Rooms A cooled down room with several thinner blankets/sheets will allow you to easily adjust your own temperature as needed when you are trying to sleep at night. You may feel hot or cold throughout the night, but you'll be able to remove or add layers as needed so that the hot flashes affect you less.
- Can't Sleep, Get Up Those that often lose sleep from hot flashes should take a moment when a hot flash is coming to simply cool down. Hot flashes can fuel themselves, in a way, because when you have a hot flash you start to worry that you won't get sleep, which increases anxiety and causes your hot flash to continue for longer. Get up and walk around during the early stages of a hot flash so that you give yourself a break from the hot flash stress.
- Write it Out When your hot flashes are caused by thoughts and worries that you can't seem to shake, write out those thoughts on a piece of paper or in some type of diary. When your brain knows that your worries and thoughts are in a permanent place that you can refer to later, it tends to focus on them less, allowing you to rest your brain and hopefully cool your hot flashes.
Once the hot flash begins, waiting until it decreases is really your only option. There are a few ways to cool down, and distracting yourself can be valuable, but a hot flash is a natural body response and one that you can't turn off. If anxiety is causing your hot flashes, you'll need to find a way to reduce the anxiety itself.
You have a lot to consider, because while there are many anxiety treatments, they will not work for everyone. Some examples of treatment options include:
- Regular Exercise Regular exercise is designed for more than fitness. Your body needs exercise in order to effectively burn off stress and improve hormone and neurotransmitter production, both of which improve anxiety symptoms. Exercise can be a bit stressful for someone that finds hot flashes to cause anxiety, but it's absolutely necessary for fighting off anxiety symptoms.
- Therapy Cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as other forms of therapy, has proven itself to be effective at reducing anxiety. While therapy is not for everyone and some people may find the costs to be too expensive, those that have the time and energy to enroll in therapy are likely to benefit from its outcomes.
- Medications Medications should be a last resort for all mental health issues, especially anxiety, but if nothing else works they can be helpful. Several antidepressant and anxiolytic drugs may reduce anxiety symptoms for those with hot flashes, but be warned - some drugs may have hot flashes as a side effect.
Everyone reacts to anxiety treatments differently, because everyone has different anxiety causes, biochemistry, symptoms, and more. So the above list is nowhere near extensive, and there are several very effective anxiety treatments that have been developed for specific symptoms and types of anxiety.
Vasoconstriction is one of many different reasons that someone may feel hot flashes from anxiety. You can’t stop the flashes, but if they are disrupting sleep or causing further distress, there are ways you can get some relief. Learning to control your anxiety is one effective way to get longer term relief from hot flashes.