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How Anxiety Can Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

How Anxiety Can Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes

Your lymph nodes are one of the first places that your doctor checks when you're sick. That's because when they're swollen, it's an indication that you have an infection, and so the doctor knows that you may have a bacterial problem rather than a viral problem.

However, what some may not realize is that anxiety can cause swollen lymph nodes without any infection. In this article we will look at how anxiety causes swollen lymph nodes and what you can do about it. 

How Anxiety May Lead to Swollen Lymph Nodes

Anxiety has a host of different symptoms and different types of anxiety may have different types of side effects that could cause swollen lymph nodes. Even then, however, it should be noted that anxiety actually does not cause swollen lymph nodes. Yet millions of people with anxiety report having swollen lymph nodes. It's actually a fairly common reported anxiety symptom.

The reason so many people report swollen lymph nodes is due to several issues that are unfortunately extremely common in those with anxiety. These include:

  • Hypersensitivity and Health Anxiety The problem with living with anxiety is that it can "create" the feeling of health problems that don't exist. These health problems are not imagined, nor are they necessarily hypochondria. The real problem is that anxiety can make person overly sensitive to the way they feel and how they experience a smaller problem. If you feel your neck, you're likely not trained to tell the difference between regular lymph nodes and swollen lymph nodes but you may seem to feel the swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck. As a result of anxiety, the lymph nodes may feel swollen despite not actually being swollen.
  • Normal Bacterial Issues It should also be noted that small infections happen all the time in your body. It's just that your body does such a good job of handling them that you normally will never notice. It's possible that you have a completely normal type of mild infection that your body is clearing up, but you happen to be checking your lymph nodes at the time and worry that the swelling is indicative of a larger problem. Anxiety can also weaken the immune system possibly leaving you a bit more prone to minor infections, so that your lymph nodes are swollen more often.
  • Neck Muscle Experience Muscle tension in general, especially in the neck, can also feel like a swollen lymph node. Often this occurs when you feel your “lymph node” on the inside of your neck rather than with your fingers. It may feel swollen to you, but it may be nothing more than intense muscle tension caused by anxiety.
  • Dehydration Dehydration is not caused by anxiety, but anxiety can contribute to dehydration because it increases sweating and may lead to less thirst (which may lead to less water consumption). Dehydration is believed to cause mild swelling of the lymph nodes, so that may be responsible for some of the swelling you feel.

Anxiety and stress may lead to several changes to the way your body operates, both in terms of bacterial growth (which again is more common with anxiety) and your immune system to the way your body creates and uses hormones. So it is absolutely possible that some change in your body is causing your lymph nodes to swell.

Swollen Lymph Nodes and Creating Anxiety

It should also be noted that health anxiety is a common symptom of anxiety disorders, and many people develop further anxiety as a response to their own constant monitoring of their health. It's very common to develop concerns that something is wrong, and these concerns lead to monitoring your body, which in turn causes you to self-diagnose more when you notice any difference in the way you feel - even a healthy one.

How to Reduce Swollen Lymph Nodes From Anxiety

Swelling of lymph nodes related to anxiety is likely to not be dangerous; however, you should always visit a doctor if you're concerned about your lymph nodes, because only a doctor can truly diagnose the problem. Some infections can be dangerous and even life threatening. 

If it is determined that anxiety is what's leading you to experience swollen lymph nodes, then the key is to make sure that you can reduce your concern over them. Lymph nodes aren't something you simply change. Ideally, you need to make sure that you're fighting the amount of mental energy you're placing on your lymph nodes to give them that "swollen" feel.

You can do that by trying the following:

  • Healthy Distractions First, simply try to distract your mind with something else. Call a friend that you like and tell them about your fears and anxiety, or talk about fun things that lighten your mood. Do a puzzle. Watch funny shows on television (not dramas or horror shows). The more you laugh and distract your thoughts, the better your anxiety will be.
  • Jog Exercise is a way of rapidly relieving anxiety that can be very beneficial for those that are finding themselves worrying about their health. Jogging releases endorphins which relax the mood, decreases your cortisol levels, and has you doing something for your health that can often counter the feeling that your health is in jeopardy.
  • Drink Water Since dehydration may also be a cause of swollen lymph nodes, drinking water can be advantageous. It's not 100% clear that dehydration causes swollen lymph nodes, but some scientists believe it may occur. Drinking water may also have an effect on your anxiety if you're dehydrated.

These are some very small, easy ways to reduce your overall anxiety and possibly think less about your lymph nodes and neck muscles. You'll still need to address your anxiety overall if you truly want to find relief.

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!

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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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