Many of the symptoms of anxiety are frustrating. Sweating is especially frustrating, and sweating is one of the most common anxiety symptoms. That's why so many people wonder how to stop sweating and what can be done to reduce its severity.
Sweating is actually a natural stress response related to the fight or flight system, and in general it's an adaptation that actually has a lot of advantages. Unfortunately, when you suffer from anxiety, sweating is just an annoying side effect of evolution, and one that many people wish they could stop.
Sweating = Anxiety?
Nervous sweating is incredibly common. It may occur when you go on a first date, take a test, prepare for a meeting with your boss, and so on. But in some cases sweating may be caused by an anxiety disorder, and that would require additional treatment.
If you find yourself sweating too often from nervousness, take my 7 minute anxiety test now to see if what you're suffering from is actually an anxiety problem, not just a nervousness problem.
Why Does Sweating Occur And How Can it Be Controlled?
The reality is that nervous sweating is not only common - it's normal. When you're nervous, your body's fight or flight system activates, sending a rush of hormone into your body that triggers an increase in heart rate and blood flow, among other things. Sweating is then also activated to help cool the body down from all of that energy, otherwise we would overheat and possibly damage our bodies.
That's why sweating, in the general sense, is both normal and healthy. The problem is when it occurs too often or in undesirable situations. If you haven't yet, take the free 7 minute anxiety test I developed to see if you may have an anxiety disorder, which could be the cause of sweating too often.
General nervousness and anxiousness may also cause sweating, even without an anxiety disorder. For example, many people find that before an important meeting or a final in high school or college that their hands start to sweat. That's because they're stressed, and their body is responding to the extra energy by cooling them down.
How to Reduce Anxious Sweating
The key to reducing anxious sweating is not stopping the sweating itself. You can't (and don't want to) stop your body's ability to cool down, otherwise your body would overheat and potentially damage your brain and organs.
Instead, you need to find a way to control your heartbeat and calm your nerves, so that your body isn't heating up and sweating to compensate. You also need to reduce excess heat on the areas that are sweating, in order to prevent excess sweating. Some examples of how to reduce this sweating include:
- Let Your Hands/Arms Breathe When you're stressed or anxious, it's not uncommon to do things like clench your hands into fists, place them in your pocket, put your hands on your face, and so on. This adds extra heat and warmth to your skin, which makes you sweat more. Make sure that your hands are able to air-dry so that the sweat can evaporate.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight Your bodyweight also plays a role in sweating. Overweight people have a greater core body temperature as a result of excess fat deposits. When you feel anxious or nervous, your body creates more heat than someone of healthy weight, causing your skin to sweat even more as a result.
- Jogging Jogging is actually an extremely effective anti-anxiety trick. Jogging releases endorphins which calm the mood and make it less prone to feelings of nervousness, even in nerve inducing situations. Jogging also tires the muscles, which prevents stress from causing quite as much energy (and thus less heat). Jogging itself does cause sweat, so you shouldn't jog right before or during any event you want to be sweat free, but once you've cooled down jogging can be very beneficial.
- Deep Breathing A calming technique that can be effective at reducing sweating is deep breathing. Deep breathing involves sitting gently in a chair with your arms at your sides. Take a deep and slow breath in through your nose. Hold for three or four seconds, and breathe out through your mouth almost like you're going to whistle so that it takes almost 7 seconds to fully exhale. Repeat ten times. Deep breathing calms the body, which should cool it down and reduce sweating.
- Don't Fear Sweat One of the more interesting problems that occurs with those that sweat excessively is that they start to fear their sweat, and this creates more nervousness. They think "I hope I don't sweat too much" and then they start to sweat more. Learn not to fear your sweat. It will go away in time, provided you learn to control your anxiety and stress.
- Wear Clothes That Breathe If you know you're going to be in a situation that may lead to sweating, try to reduce external body heat. Overly warm clothes will only increase your body's need to sweat, and could make the sweat seem more excessive.
These are the types of strategies you can use in the moment, but in general the key to avoiding sweating is to avoid nervousness and anxiety.
If you just suffer from nervousness in some situations (like going on a blind date) then your sweating is likely normal. The key to preventing sweat is to find ways to calm yourself so that the event doesn't generate as much of a fear response. Deep breathing, meditation, and jogging long beforehand can be a tremendous help here.
If you are nervous all the time, or as a result of anxiety, then you will need to learn to control your anxiety symptoms. It's crucial to know if you're suffering from constant anxiety or panic attacks and only by checking the symptoms can you be certain you have anxiety, and figure out what to do about it.
I developed a 7 minute anxiety test specifically to help people overcome their anxiety and their anxiety sweating. Take the test now to see if you may have an anxiety problem, and to get a recommendation for treatments.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.