Your glands 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.
What's interesting though is that many people find that their anxiety causes swollen glands. So how can anxiety cause swollen glands and what can you do to stop it?
Swollen Glands = Anxiety?
Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your swollen glands. But it is possible for anxiety to make you feel as though your glands are swollen. Take my anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety and what it takes to treat it.
Swollen Lymph Nodes and Anxiety
Anxiety has a host of different symptoms and different types of anxiety may have different types of side effects that could cause the feeling of swollen glands. Make sure you take my anxiety test to learn more about your anxiety.
It should also be noted that these glands are not glands at all. Generally you're referring to swollen lymph nodes. Glands are organs that excrete something into the body, like the thyroid gland. These can become swollen, but you can't feel it and it is not caused by anxiety.
Swollen lymph nodes are the areas around your neck, armpit, etc., that you can actually feel. These are not glands because they do not excrete anything but they are referred to as glands for reasons that are not entirely clear.
How Anxiety May Lead to 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 anxiety symptom.
So what's the disconnect?
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. You'll also "feel" as though you can feel the swollen-ness of the gland in your neck. Since you have anxiety, the glands 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 swollen nature of these glands 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 glands are swollen more often.
- Neck Muscle Experience Muscle tension in general, especially in the neck, can also feel like a swollen gland. Often this occurs when you feel your gland 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 swollen glands, so that may be responsible for some of the "difference" you feel.
This is not to say that anxiety cannot cause your swollen glands either. The truth is that anxiety and stress cause some very unusual symptoms and 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 glands to swell.
Swollen Glands and Creating Anxiety
It should also be noted that health anxiety is a common symptom of panic disorder, 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.
Also, true glands - like the thyroid gland, the pituitary gland, etc., can swell themselves. But these glands are inside of your body in a way that can never be felt. Interestingly, true swollen glands can cause anxiety by releasing extra hormones into the body, but that tends to be fairly rare and is easy to test for with a simple doctor's visit. What makes it even more fascinating is that it's possible to learn to cope with anxiety even if it's caused by a swollen gland.
How to Reduce Swollen Glands From Anxiety
Because these glands are probably not swollen - and because they are likely to not be dangerous even if they are - there isn't necessarily a specific cure that addresses these concerns directly. You should always visit a doctor if you're concerned about your glands, because only a doctor can truly diagnose them, and because infections can in some cases be dangerous.
But if it's pretty clear that your anxiety is what's leading you to feel these swollen glands, 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 these glands 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 cure your anxiety overall if you truly want to find relief.
I've helped thousands of people that have reported swollen lymph nodes from anxiety reduce their symptoms with my free 7 minute anxiety test. Make sure you take the test now to find out more about your own anxiety symptoms and related treatments.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.