Imagine you were face to face with an angry lion. You need your body to be ready for anything - whether it's fighting the lion away or running for your life. If your muscles are too tired or you are too hot, or you don't have a lot of energy, you're going to become cat food.
Your body has a system in place for just this purpose. It's known as the fight or flight system, and it sends energy to every part of your body and prepares it to deal with danger. It's an incredibly valuable system, but unfortunately, it's a system that can also malfunction. This creates what's known as anxiety.
Muscle Stiffness = Anxiety?
Your muscles are always going to be affected by long-term anxiety, and the behaviors you show as a result can make your stiffness worse. Find out how to stop your anxiety forever with my free 7-minute anxiety test.
Anxiety and the Muscles
Your muscles represent the parts of your body that need the most energy if you were facing a predator. You need to be able to run away quickly, or at least stand your ground if attacked. But when you have anxiety, your muscles are essentially experiencing non-stop energy, and eventually, that energy can translate into muscle problems.
Make sure you take my anxiety test to see how severe your anxiety is. Stiffness is the direct result of the way that your muscles feel when they've been put on edge as a result of your fight or flight system's constant barrage of adrenaline. They start to tense up, and that leads to this feeling of stiffness that can be painful, irritating, and possibly even affect movement.
Stiffness and Anxiety Behaviors
Not all stiffness is related to the way your anxiety affects your body either. Some types of muscle stiffness are actually the result of the way you react to your anxiety in general.
For example, often those that experience a great deal of anxiety end up reducing their activity levels. They sleep longer, or they lay down too much, or they sit in positions that give them comfort and help them cope. But these are unnatural for their body.
Any time you change your behaviors, you also increase the likelihood of muscle stiffness. Your muscles need you to be moving and active. When you're not active or changing the way you do something (like walk, sit, etc.), you're increasing muscle stress, which in turn can become muscle pain and discomfort.
Similarly, the muscle stiffness caused by the fight or flight system may also change your behaviors as you respond to the pain. This can create a cycle of stiffness where your anxiety causes muscle stiffness, which causes inactivity, which causes more anxiety and more stiffness.
How to Stop Muscle Stiffness From Anxiety
It doesn't matter if muscle stiffness is due to anxiety, exercise, injury, etc. The stiffness is still stiffness, and the pain and discomfort you experience need to be dealt with the same way it would be treated even if it wasn't caused by anxiety.
That means that you should first talk to your doctor, and then consider the following:
- Stretching Often Stretching is, of course, a valuable way to relieve muscle stiffness. It keeps your muscles loose and works out some of the tension that is present in your muscles and keeps you from easily moving. It also reduces the risk of further injury, which is important for stopping muscle stiffness.
- Exercise Exercise, in general, is essential both for anxiety and for muscle stiffness. Exercise is known to be almost as powerful a cure for anxiety as many anxiety medications because it creates and releases many of the same hormones that are known to improve your mood. It also keeps your muscles loose and healthy. You can also consider yoga, which is a form of both exercise and stretching and may have a positive effect on your future muscle discomfort.
- Massage Massage is also considered a way to combat both muscle stiffness and anxiety together. Massage is known to decrease anxiety, although it's not clear why - most likely because it is a comforting way to decrease some of the symptoms. Massage is also an effective way to work out muscle stiffness. That makes massage a valuable choice for those whose muscles have been stressed because of your anxiety.
- General Health - Your muscles are also very sensitive to your general health as well. You need to do anything you can to make sure you're getting enough sleep, eating protein, and drinking water. These small changes won't have a big effect on your anxiety, but they are going to improve your muscle health, which should improve the way your muscles deal with stress.
If you're someone that uses modern medicine, traditional over the counter painkillers should also be effective. Most muscle stiffness and pain responds fairly well to basic over the counter treatments. Always make sure you talk to your doctor first before taking any type of medication.
All of these should decrease the effects of muscle stiffness from anxiety, but they do not necessarily improve your ability to deal with the anxiety itself. It's still going to be very important for you to deal with anxiety itself in order to ensure that you're able to successfully stop the stiffness from occurring.
I've helped thousands of those with severe anxiety control their muscle stiffness and other fight or flight symptoms starting with my free 7-minute anxiety test. Make sure you take the test now to find out exactly what it takes to fully control your anxiety.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Dec 15, 2017.