"Numbness" can be a scary sensation, whether this is experienced psychologically or physically. When someone says they're feeling numb, it can be related to a variety of health conditions affecting the body, or a result of psychological issues affecting the mind.
Interestingly, in both cases, numbness may be caused by anxiety. Anxiety-related numbness is actually fairly common (both physically and psychologically) and is often made worse by the anxiety that many experience as a result of that numbness.
The Effects of Anxiety
Anxiety is an extremely powerful condition - more powerful than most people realize. Even low levels of anxiety are constantly affecting the mind and the body in a variety of complex ways that medical science is gradually learning more and more about.
As mentioned, numbness can manifest in several forms:
- Physical Numbness - Losing feeling or getting a tingling sensation in a certain part of your body.
- Emotional Numbness - Feeling detached, unenthusiastic and as though there isn't much happiness or interest in the world.
- Disassociative Numbness - Some of those with anxiety experience a type of derealization, where they feel they are not in their own body or that they are not living in reality.
Both types of numbness can be incredibly troubling, and in some cases terrifying. Yet often these sensations are caused by anxiety and can therefore be managed.
Physical Numbness and Anxiety
Physical numbness occurs when a certain part of your body has reduced physical sensations. In some cases, it may have no feeling at all. In other cases, there may still be some feeling that goes along with a tingling sensation, much like “pins and needles”.
Physical numbness is most common in your fingers and toes, but it can occur nearly anywhere on your body including your:
That part of your body may experience no feeling at all, or it may feel as though it has gotten very weak.
Physical anxiety-related numbness may occur for several reasons. The most likely reason has to do with blood flow. When you're feeling anxious, your body goes into "fight or flight" mode: your body heats up, and blood rushes to the areas of your body that it feels are most needed to fight or run away. This is linked to a constriction of the blood vessels, which reduces blood flow to certain body parts which may cause you to lose feeling in those areas.
Another potential cause, however, is hyperventilation. Anxiety often leads to hyperventilation, and when you're not breathing correctly, that hyperventilation can lead to feelings of numbness or tingling - especially in the extremities and face.
Hyperventilation and Anxiety
Hyperventilation is an extremely common problem with anxiety. Hyperventilation occurs from:
- Breathing too quickly.
- Taking breaths that are too shallow or too rapid.
- Breathing in too much oxygen because you feel you can't get a deep breath.
It's the cause of a host of potential anxiety symptoms, including numbness, and unfortunately far too many people overlook the significant role that hyperventilation plays in maintaining their anxiety symptoms.
Emotional Numbness and Anxiety
Becoming physically numb can be incredibly frightening, but becoming emotionally numb can also be very distressing. Emotional numbness is essentially a lack of emotion, or a feeling of being distanced and detached from what’s happening in your life. It's a common experience amongst those with depression, but it occurs also in those with bouts of severe stress, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
For example a common symptom of depression that also occurs in those with anxiety is known as anhedonia. Anhedonia literally translates to “the absence of pleasure.” When someone experiences anhedonia, they are unable to experience positive emotions. They may not necessarily be sad, but they are numb to good feelings.
Other examples of emotional numbness may include indifference, lack of empathy, trouble getting excited, or no strong emotions at all.
Experiencing too much stress can take a toll on your mental health in ways that are hard for many to imagine. Often, those that experience anxiety attacks frequently, or profound stress for a long period of time, are left feeling very drained; and that feeling of being drained can resemble emotional numbness at times. If you’re experiencing emotional numbness, it’s important to seek treatment, as this detachment can have a real negative impact on your quality of life.
Numbness Causing Anxiety
Also, it should be mentioned that numbness in general can increase anxiety, because often the reaction that you have to your numbness is fear that the numbness is something much more serious. This is especially true of those that suffer from anxiety attacks, where some anxiety triggers numbness which triggers more anxiety. Often, this cycle ends up causing a panic attack, which can be very distressing in and of itself.
How to Reduce Anxiety-Related Numbness
Numbness is, in some ways, a "symptom of a symptom." This is especially the case when the tingling or numbness is being caused by hyperventilation. However, there are several strategies that you can draw on in order to cope with these experiences:
- Controlled Breathing - If hyperventilation is contributing to your anxiety, regain control of your breathing. Take calmer, slower breaths that give you enough oxygen without trying to force in air your body doesn’t necessarily need. Your body knows whether to let in a deep breath or not, you simply have to try to slow it down so that your body has time to convert that oxygen to carbon dioxide. While it can be helpful to keep all of this information in mind, don’t overthink it: just focus on breathing at a slow and steady pace, and your symptoms will often start to recede very quickly.
- Laugh - Laughing can help you cope with anxiety. It may a challenging things to do, especially in the case of emotional numbness; but if you can find something that always makes you laugh, like stand-up comedy, your anxiety may decrease. Laughter is also known to combat anxiety due to an increase in endorphins (happy hormones) and a reduction in cortisol (the stress hormone), both of which lead to feelings of calmness and relaxation.
- Run - Exercise and running are effective tools for coping with anxiety and stress. Like laughter, running decreases cortisol and increases endorphins, thus decreasing overall anxiety levels. Go out for a jog, and see if that helps stimulate a reduction in your stress hormones.
These are some of the steps that can be taken if you want to manage your anxiety and reduce your numbness. Numbness comes in many forms. But no matter which form it comes in, it is very often a distressing experience. It is difficult to address or change numbness directly. But you can address the anxiety that causes numbness using therapy, medications (speak to your doctor or psychiatrist), self-help resources, and other strategies that will help you get relief. Anxiety is a treatable condition, and thus anxiety-related numbness is an experience from which you can get relief.