Stress has a physical effect on the body. When you suffer from anxiety, you're putting your body through extensive, long term stress. Your body is in fight or flight mode, and that means that it's releasing hormones that tense muscles and create an overall feeling of general unpleasantness that, in many ways, contributes to further anxiety.
Neck pain is one of the symptoms caused by persistent anxiety. It doesn't occur with everyone - very few anxiety symptoms occur in everyone - but many do experience a degree of neck pain that ranges anywhere from slightly irritating to severe, all as a result of their anxiety symptoms.
Is Anxiety Making You Feel Numb?
Both physical and emotional numbness can be frightening, and there are a variety of health conditions that can cause those experiences. They may also be caused by nothing more than anxiety.
Our free 7 minute anxiety test will score your anxiety severity, help you determine if anxiety is leading to numbness, and give you treatment recommendations.
Anxiety Increases Neck Pain Risk
Many factors can increase your risk for neck pain. If the neck pain is severe, it may be in your best interests to go to a doctor. Whiplash, a herniated disc, arthritis - many issues can cause a feeling of neck pain, and the more intense it is the more it is a good idea to check it out.
Anxiety also has to be considered. Rarely will you experience neck pain and no other symptoms. Click here to take my 7 minute anxiety test and see if neck pain may be due to an anxiety problem.
What Causes Anxiety Neck Pain?
The main cause of neck pain is tension. During periods of intense anxiety, your muscles tense up dramatically. Muscle tension tightens the muscles, especially in the shoulders, back, and neck. The more anxiety you experience, the more your tension may cause significant pain and discomfort.
A related issue comes from the mindset of those with anxiety. Many people get muscle tension in their neck during times of stress. But those with anxiety are more prone to noticing it and focusing on it. Those with anxiety have a natural tendency to fixate on negative sensations unintentionally, so this same neck pain tends to feel more severe than it would to someone without anxiety, even though objectively the pain would be equal.
General Neck Pain and Anxiety
For similar reasons, those with anxiety may be more prone to experiencing greater degrees of neck discomfort than those without anxiety. Mild to moderate neck pain occurs often even when no anxiety or health problems are present as a result of sitting in chairs all day, sleeping in uncomfortable positions, looking down too often or not stretching.
Those without anxiety may pass this off as a normal ache and pain - one that they experience often in life. Those with anxiety, especially those with panic attacks that are unusually sensitive to physical sensations, may be unable to think about anything else. The degree of mental energy they place on their neck pain may increase the pain experience, and possibly further anxiety.
Neck Discomfort and Panic Attacks
Those with panic disorder are also more prone to issues related to neck discomfort that aren't necessarily pain itself, but may contribute to the feeling that something is wrong. For example, those with anxiety may feel like they have trouble holding up their head, almost like their head is weak.
It's not clear why anxiety causes this problem, but many of those with panic attacks experience it. If that problem is combined with mild, moderate, or severe pain or tension, it's not uncommon to feel like something must be wrong with your overall health. Yet when this occurs, nothing is technically wrong beyond simply suffering from anxiety.
How to Control Neck Pain From Anxiety
Generally when anxiety causes neck pain through muscle tension, the best thing to do is control the muscle tension first and the anxiety second. Most other anxiety symptoms require you to respond to the anxiety directly for the symptom to go away, but tense muscles have a tendency to linger, so additional treatment may be valuable. Consider the following:
- Massage Massage is one of the best ways to reduce pain in the neck. You can self-massage and find some relief, but paying for a massage or asking a significant other to rub your muscles can genuinely help push out some of the tension in your body and release some of the stress that causes this type of neck pain.
- Hot Bath/Shower Heat is also very soothing for tense muscles. A hot bath is ideal, but you can also consider a hot shower as well and simply stand in there long enough for your neck muscles to warm up. Heat makes it harder for your muscles to hold in tension, and in some cases the water and steam may be soothing to your anxiety.
- Exercise If it's not too painful, some jogging and exercise can improve muscle tension symptoms. When you use up energy in your muscles, it becomes harder for them to tense up during times of stress.
These strategies make it possible to reduce some of the effects of muscle tension on your body. You should also make sure that you're sitting with good posture, since regular pain may feel more severe when you have anxiety.
But of course, if you don't control your anxiety directly, much of those symptoms are likely to come back. That's why you need a strategy that will permanently cure you of your anxiety.
I've helped thousands of those with neck pain from anxiety in the past. I start them all off with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Click here to begin.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.