Sweating is the body's natural way of staying cool. You're sweating all throughout the day every day, even when you don't feel it, but the body tends to sweat only as much as it needs to and that sweat evaporates so quickly that you're often unaware it's happening at all.
Sweating and anxiety have a complicated relationship, however, because anxiety itself can cause profuse sweating and profuse sweating (a condition that may be hyperhidrosis) can cause anxiety.
Hyperhidrosis = Anxiety?
Hyperhidrosis is sweating considerably more than necessary, and it is a tremendous sign of anxiety. Learn more about your anxiety symptoms by taking my free 7-minute anxiety test.
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Hyperhidrosis - A Broad Term
Hyperhidrosis has two different definitions, both of which have a relationship with anxiety. The first is simply excessive sweating, which is a common symptom of anxiety along with other symptoms that you'll explore with my free 7-minute anxiety test.
The second is a genetic condition known as hyperhidrosis that is not caused by anxiety but can cause anxiety on its own.
Excessive Sweating and Anxiety
Most people are familiar with the sweating that comes with anxiety. But what you may not know is why that sweating occurs. Sweating occurs because anxiety is a broken fight or flight response - the response that your body makes when it is presented with danger.
This genetic and evolutionary adaptation is actually extremely advantageous. It's the reason that if faced with fear, you can run away at a moment's notice or fight and save your life even if you are otherwise not someone that reacts quickly.
The fight or flight response provides your body with everything it needs to fight or flee. It speeds up your heart rate so that you can get blood where it's needed. It dilates your pupils so that you can process information faster. It even rushes you with excess adrenaline so that you'll have more energy for the battle.
It also causes you to sweat. The sweating is a preventative measure. Since your body expects you to fight or run away, your body is, essentially, expecting you to release energy which will cause your body to heat up. So it releases excess sweat so that when your body heats up, it also cools down easily.
The problem is that those with anxiety aren't fighting or fleeing. Their fight or flight system is responding with no danger present. So instead of the sweat burning away from body heat or stopping because the fight/flight is over, you simply keep sweating indefinitely, causing what may be termed "Hyperhidrosis" - or "excess perspiration." This is an extremely common problem for those with anxiety.
Hyperhidrosis (Condition) Causing Anxiety
Beyond that, however, there are medical conditions (almost always benign) that can cause hyperhidrosis. One of them is also known as hyperhidrosis, and it can affect any area of the body. For example, some people get hyperhidrosis in their hands in a way that causes so much sweat that their hands start to feel freezing even during the day. These areas of the body are constantly sweating - and because they don't always occur in an area of the body where bacteria is common, that sweating may be scentless and simply feel as though they had just run that part of the body under cold water.
Others experience excessive sweating as a result of menopause, night sweats, and more. This type of sweating though is less surprising.
One of the problems with hyperhidrosis as a condition (or a symptom of another issue) is that excessive perspiration appears to cause anxiety, especially in those that were born with a hyperhidrosis problem. The embarrassment of knowing that their hands, feet, or other areas of their body are prone to extreme amounts of sweat may lead to the development of social anxiety.
Hyperhidrosis Causing Anxiety Causing Hyperhidrosis
To make matters worse, those that have hyperhidrosis - including those that are sweating excessively from anxiety - often find that their anxiety over the sweating leads to worsened sweating. For many, this creates a cycle that can be very hard to break, and it explains why many people with a sweating disorder develop anxiety - they are slightly nervous about their sweating problem, that nervousness makes them sweat more, which makes them more nervous until it develops into an anxiety disorder.
What to Do About Hyperhidrosis and Anxiety
It would be great if there were an easy solution to the hyperhidrosis problem, but unfortunately, with so many different causes and different degrees of excessive sweating, it's a bit difficult to provide one piece of advice.
Ideally, you should start by talking to your doctor, especially if your hyperhidrosis is medically related. If you were born with extreme sweating in your hands, feet, or some other part of your body, your doctor would give you options to help you deal with your discomfort. You should also remind yourself that people rarely care about sweating. Most of your fears are in your head, and while you may meet the occasional bully or insensitive individual, it's uncommon and unlikely.
You should then tackle your anxiety like it is a separate problem altogether. Yes, there are reasons that your sweating and anxiety are related, but because sweating is an automatic action that your body makes to stay safe in danger, you can't turn it off any other way. You wouldn't want to, either, because if you could turn your sweating off when your fight or flight system is activated, your body could overheat and cause significant physical problems.
Instead, take my free 7-minute anxiety test now. It'll look at your symptoms to give you some solutions for controlling your anxiety and reducing the effects of hyperhidrosis.
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Ramos, Ricard, et al. An assessment of anxiety in patients with primary hyperhidrosis before and after endoscopic thoracic sympathicolysis . European journal of cardio-thoracic surgery 30.2 (2006): 228-231.
Ruchinskas, R. A., et al. The relationship of psychopathology and hyperhidrosis . British Journal of Dermatology 147.4 (2002): 733-735.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 28, 2017.