Physical Symptoms
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Muscle Stiffness From Anxiety - Remedies

Victoria LeBlanc, MS, LCPC
Muscle Stiffness From Anxiety - Remedies

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 are going to become cat food.

Your body has a system in place for just this purpose. It is known as the sympathetic nervous system, and it is responsible for the fight or flight response. The sympathetic nervous system sends energy to every part of your body and prepares it to deal with danger. It's an incredibly valuable system, but unfortunately, it can also be triggered when we aren’t actually in physical danger. 

Individuals who experience anxiety know first hand what it is like when the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, sometimes unconsciously. Panic attacks are a good example of this system jumping into action. When a person experiences a panic attack they may feel as if their life is in danger which can trigger the fight or flight response.

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 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.

Stiffness is the direct result of the way that your muscles feel when they've been put on edge as a result of your nervous 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 range of 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 more frequently, or they sit in positions that give them comfort and help them cope but are unnatural for their body.

When you decrease your activity levels 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 increase muscle stress, which in turn can lead to muscle pain and discomfort.

Similarly, the muscle stiffness caused by the sympathetic nervous 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 there, and the pain and discomfort you experience needs 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:

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 your anxiety in order to ensure that you're able to successfully stop the muscle stiffness from occurring.

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