Physical Symptoms

How to Control Muscle Weakness Associated with Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

How to Control Muscle Weakness Associated with Anxiety

Muscle weakness is a potentially frightening anxiety symptom. The experience can be really distressing, leading to severe tension and worry, which only serve to make the anxiety worse. Ultimately, feeling that you don’t have the physical strength to live a normal life can really make things difficult. In this article, we explore the link between anxiety and feelings of muscular weakness, suggesting several coping techniques that you can use. Read on to learn more.

Anxiety Causes Muscle Weakness

Anxiety problems are known to cause feelings of muscle weakness. However, you should visit a doctor if you're experiencing this, in order to make sure that there isn’t another medical or physical explanation. Most often, however, the muscle weakness that you feel is likely to be linked to your anxiety. While it can be distressing and irritating, these feelings of muscular fatigue, tingling or numbness are not harmful in and of themselves. 

However, is this really a case of your muscles being temporarily weakened, or is this just your anxiety playing tricks on your mind? Muscle weakness is generally subjective. While some people do have problems standing or sitting, few are "testing" the muscle to see if the muscle is actually weaker. There are several different issues that lead to this perceived feeling of weakness. They include:

  • Hyperventilation When you breathe too quickly, or take in too much air, this is known as hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is extremely common for those with anxiety, potentially causing muscle weakness by reducing blood flow to the extremities. It's not dangerous, but it can cause your muscles to feel weak, tingly, or light, along with many other symptoms.
  • Fight or Flight During the fight or flight response, anxiety causes several changes in the body. These include an increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, faster breathing, and changes in blood flow. One of the effects of these changes is the sensation that the muscles are weakened. They may not actually be weaker, but the complex bodily and hormonal changes may cause your muscles to feel that way. 
  • Muscle Tension and Fatigue Anxiety also leads to both muscle fatigue, due to the way that stress causes your muscles to tense and your body to tire. This can tire your muscles to such a degree that it feels as though they have less strength than they did previously.
  • Perceived Weakness Finally, anxiety tends to make you over-sensitive to what’s happening in your body. This means that you may interpret a feeling of muscle weakness as being worse than it is, which in turn can further fuel your anxiety. In reality, however, you may find that the muscle weakness is just a matter of perception - “all in your mind”, in other words. 

These are some of the potential causes of muscle weakness linked to anxiety. There may be other links as well - anxiety can affect many different aspects of your body. Some people may feel more lightheaded, as though they're going to faint and this can cause a feeling of muscle weakness as well. Others may not eat or drink enough as a result of their anxiety, causing actual muscle weakness and fatigue. 

The Best Ways to Control Anxiety Related Muscle Weakness

Muscle weakness is a tricky issue. On the one hand, when it's caused by anxiety it's not dangerous; and in some cases, it’s just a matter of perception and your muscles are not really weakened. On the other hand, living with muscle weakness can be stressful, often increasing the level of anxiety that you feel.

There are several strategies you can use to decrease the feeling of having weak muscles. These include:

  • Walking Often your muscles aren't actually weak. They're simply feeling that way. So go for a walk, and show your brain that your muscles are fine. Walking is good for blood flow and keeps your muscles active, which - while it won't cure muscle weakness altogether - is useful for overcoming some of the stress. If you prefer to do other forms of physical activity, including stretching and/or yoga exercises, that ought to help as well. 
  • Breathing Slow, concentrated breaths will reduce the effects of hyperventilation. Make sure that you're not breathing too quickly or in a shallow manner. Breathe slowly, deep into your belly. Each breath should take as long as 15 seconds from the time you start breathing in until the time you finish exhaling. Try to hold your breath for a few seconds between the inhale and the exhale. 
  • Mental Distractions Remember, part of the goal is simply not to focus on your muscles as much because that level of focus can make them feel weaker than they are. Distracting yourself through mental exercises, phone calls, time in nature, music or meditation can help. The exact distraction that you employ doesn’t matter all that much - what’s important is that you find an enjoyable activity that you can use to temporarily take your mind off of what’s happening in your body. 

These strategies aren't going to reduce your muscle weakness every time. Sometimes, for example, you’re genuinely tired and your there’s a good reason for why your body is feeling that way. Sometimes the anxiety that you feel may seem so overwhelming that you believe these exercises won’t have much of an impact. 

At times, there is no quick fix available. Nonetheless, the techniques that we have discussed today can prove helpful in managing sensations of muscle weakness and reducing your overall anxiety levels. If you want to take things one step further, think more broadly about your anxiety and ways that you can address this. For example:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Anxiety Reducing Medications (when prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist) 
  • Self-Help for Anxiety

You can read more about these types of treatments on our anxiety treatment page. By tackling the underlying problem - i.e. the anxiety - at its root, you stand the best chance of overcoming your muscle weakness.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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