Anxiety has some very strange symptoms, and one type of symptom that often causes a great deal of distress is the pins and needles feeling – the way your arm feels when it wakes up after falling asleep.
Those that aren't prepared for this symptom may develop further anxiety and worry that this pins and needles feeling is caused by something else – something more dangerous. Yet very often, it's caused by anxiety.
Is Your Tingling From Anxiety?
Nerve issues are often cause for concern. But anxiety can trigger pins and needles too. Our free 7 minute anxiety test can calculate your anxiety severity score, and give you more information about your anxiety symptoms.
The Health Concerns Over Pins and Needles
Anxiety causes people to fear the worst. Random spurts of pins and needles can make people worry about very serious diseases, including:
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Heart Failure
It's important to visit your doctor to rule out any of these issues. But don’t forget that anxiety really does cause the feeling of pins and needles, as well as the tendency to assume the worst.
To find out more about your anxiety, click here to start my free anxiety test.
Cause of Pins and Needles
The feeling of pins and needles is known as "paresthesia." Most people associate it with sleeping incorrectly on a nerve. This causes the nerve to stop sending signals so that it "falls asleep" and creates a feeling of numbness. When pressure is taken off of the nerve, the body sends shock waves down the nerve to wake it up. This is what creates a feeling of pins and needles.
But paresthesia doesn't just occur when a nerve has pressure. It may also occur during anxiety, especially during panic attacks. That's because during panic attacks, the body becomes more prone to hyperventilation.
How Hyperventilation Causes Parasthesia
During hyperventilation, the body has too much oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide. That imbalance causes every vessel inside the body to constrict, while simultaneously reducing the release of calcium into the nerves. Both of these cause the nerves to feel "tingly."
Those with anxiety are also prone to hyperventilating more as a result of their hyperventilation. Hyperventilation can cause symptoms of not getting enough air (shortness of breath) which makes people breathe in deeper. But that deeper breathing is actually counterproductive, since too much oxygen is the cause of hyperventilation. This makes the symptoms get worse, and increases the likelihood of tingling.
Hyperventilation is one of the main causes of panic attack and severe anxiety symptoms, and the pins and needles feeling is undoubtedly one of the most troublesome for those unaware of their breathing patterns. Not everyone experiences the same sensation either. Some people feel pain, while others feel a tickling. Some people may experience different sensations at different times.
Other Links Between Anxiety and Pins and Needles
Those with anxiety and those that suffer from anxiety attacks are also more prone to body consciousness. They become over-sensitive to every sensation their body makes, and unintentionally overthink the causes of those experiences.
Feet, arms, fingers, and legs, all may fall asleep due to pressure on the nerves. For a person without anxiety, this experience is rarely given a second thought. To a person with anxiety, this experience can cause a significant amount of distress – enough to make someone worry about their health.
In addition, dehydration and other less serious diseases may also create a tingling feeling in the limbs as well as anxiety. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may be more likely to react very strongly to these sensations until you experience an anxiety attack.
Seeing a Doctor
It's still important to see a doctor to ensure it is nothing more serious. Some vitamin deficiencies, such as low levels of magnesium, Vitamin B12, and vitamin B5 can also cause a tingling feeling and contribute to anxiety sensations. Vitamin supplementation may be helpful in ruling out these causes.
How to Stop the Anxiety of Tingling Limbs
There are several ways to control anxiety from the pins and needles sensation. Some of the things you can try include:
- Breathe Slower If you control hyperventilation, you control the pins and needles sensation. Try slowing down your breathing and resisting the urge to take a bigger breath than you need. Breathe in slowly for 5 to 7 seconds, hold for a few seconds, then breathe out for 7 or so seconds. Try to avoid over-breathing, and fight your body's temptation to yawn or expand your chest.
- Moving Even though your body is not technically asleep, moving can still be very advantageous. Clenching your fists when your hands tingle or walking around your home when your legs are on pins and needles are helpful ways to get blood flowing in those areas. In some cases, you'll find that they go away quickly because your anxiety was a response to those areas falling asleep. In other cases, you may find that moving makes it easier to control your anxiety.
- Light Jogging Some mild jogging can also help you regain some of the sensation. It's hard for some people to jog during a panic attack, and don't force yourself if you don't think it's possible. But jogging also increases carbon dioxide release and burns away some stress hormones and muscle tension in a way that tends to relax the body.
- Distractions Finally, a lot of hyperventilation occurs because you're thinking about your own breathing. Try to help your breathing become automatic again. Your body knows how much it needs to breathe to be healthy, but is not in control of regulating your breathing when you make it conscious by thinking about it. Distractions can turn your body back on autopilot and help it balance your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
These are all simple but effective ways at helping decrease the pins and needles feeling so that you no longer feel the irritating sensation.
Long Term Pins and Needles Treatment
The main issue that you need to consider is how to treat your anxiety in the long term and prevent hyperventilation from occurring. There are two paths to this:
- First, you need to retrain yourself to breathe healthier. Breathing slower and during times of stress will teach your body to control its breathing in a way that is less likely to cause hyperventilation. Make sure that you take 30 minutes or so out of every day to sit in a quiet place and breathe slowly in a controlled manner to provide this training.
- Second you'll need to control your anxiety. Hyperventilation is a trained breathing reflex brought on by anxiety and panic attacks. If you continue to suffer from these disorders, your body will forget everything you trained it to do and hyperventilate again.
I've helped thousands of people stop that pins and needles feeling. It's a symptom of anxiety that requires a consistent and effective approach. Start with my 7 minute anxiety test to fill out your symptoms and get recommended treatment options that are known to work.
Evans, Randolph W. Neurologic aspects of hyperventilation syndrome. Seminars in neurology. Vol. 15. No. 2. 1995.
van den Hout, Marcel A., et al. Waning of panic sensations during prolonged hyperventilation. Behaviour research and therapy 28.5 (1990): 445-448.
Kaplan, Norman M. Anxiety-induced hyperventilation: a common cause of symptoms in patients with hypertension. Archives of internal medicine 157.9 (1997): 945.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.