Related Medical Issues

Dealing with Swollen Lymph Nodes Caused by Anxiety

  • Swollen lymph nodes are a mysterious and controversial anxiety symptom
  • There is evidence that anxiety can create swollen lymph nodes
  • There is also evidence that a specific symptom of anxiety creates the illusion of swelling
  • Eliminating the swollen lymph node feeling quickly may be as simple as drinking water or exercising
  • If the feeling continues, it may become important to integrate other anxiety treatment strategies
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated February 12, 2021

Dealing with Swollen Lymph Nodes Caused by Anxiety

Anxiety can cause a lot of extremely unusual symptoms. Many of these symptoms are similar to those of real medical conditions, which is why they can go unnoticed or contribute to further anxiety. Of course, because they are related to real medical conditions, you should always see a doctor. That is especially true if the symptom you’re struggling with comprises swollen lymph nodes.

Swollen lymph nodes are more commonly the result of medical conditions such as infections. There are also more serious conditions that may be related to swollen lymph nodes. Talk to a doctor if you’re concerned. But note that, in rare cases, anxiety may cause the feeling that you have swollen lymph nodes or swollen glands. For those with health anxiety, this sensation can be incredibly frightening.

Interestingly, it’s unclear if anxiety or stress actually causes swollen lymph nodes. What is clear, however, is that anxiety causes people to feel as though they have swollen lymph nodes, and this may lead to further anxiety about their overall health.

Does Anxiety Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?

Swollen lymph nodes are among the most controversial symptoms of anxiety. It appears that anxiety can cause swollen lymph nodes, but the reason isn’t clear because there isn’t a medical connection between lymph nodes and stress.

The reality is that, in many cases it’s not that simple. Lymph nodes themselves cannot swell as a result of stress. Their swelling generally only occurs to fight off an infection. Yet there is no denying that some people with severe stress and anxiety report swollen lymph nodes. So what is happening?

Health Anxiety

Your lymph nodes often vary in size and shape. When you’re feeling anxious, it’s not uncommon for your lymph nodes to feel bigger than they really are. That’s because some types of anxiety can cause a feeling of over-sensitization — when you touch your lymph nodes, they feel bigger than they are.

Possible Mild Infection 

Stress also weakens the immune system. Your body is always fighting germs and bacteria. It’s possible that, because of stress, you are a bit more prone to mild infections and your body is fighting them off. These infections may not be dangerous or may not present with other symptoms.

Muscle Tension 

Anxiety and stress can also cause a considerable amount of muscle tension in your neck. You may feel like you have a lump in the throat, while another person may feel more pressure on the sides of the neck towards the lymph nodes. A common anxiety symptom is neck pressure, which you feel when you swallow. So it’s possible that your glands only feel swollen when, in reality, it’s your neck that is swollen.

Other Reasons

In addition, it is possible that your lymph nodes are swelling for reasons that are still unclear. Anxiety causes a lot of strange reactions in the body, and many people experience anxiety differently. While the neck is the most common place to find swollen lymph nodes in, they may also occur in areas such as the following:

  • Armpits
  • Abdomen
  • Groin

It’s a bit less common for the swelling of these glands to be anxiety-related, but it’s still possible for the reasons listed above. Remember, only a medical professional can rule out other health conditions, and because swollen lymph nodes are linked to serious illnesses, it is important to always see a doctor if you are concerned. Doctors’ training allows them to identify swollen lymph nodes well. Yet, if your doctor has ruled out a medical condition, note that it is still possible for anxiety to cause sensations that indicate the lymph nodes are swollen.

How to Diagnose and Manage Anxiety-Related Swollen Lymph Nodes

Only a medical professional can diagnose any lymph node problems. Always see a doctor if your lymph nodes appear swollen for more than a week or two or are accompanied by any signs of illness.

However, if you are sure that anxiety is causing your lymph nodes to feel swollen because other issues have been ruled out, you can deal with them in the comfort of your home. You can’t treat the lymph nodes, however. Instead, you need to find a way to get your anxiety under control so that it doesn’t cause your lymph nodes to swell.

Anxiety Solutions for Lymph Nodes

There are few rapid anxiety solutions. 

Anxiety is a long-term issue. So you will need to find treatments that decrease not only the amount of anxiety you experience but also how you experience it. Luckily, there are a few quick ways to manage anxiety:

Running or Other Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that are meant to reduce pain. These neurotransmitters also lead to improved moods. Moreover, exercise tires muscles and depletes anxiety, so the tension in your neck and shoulders should go away.

Drink Water

Dehydration may cause your lymph nodes to swell and may also cause anxiety. Drinking water is a safe way to determine whether your anxiety and swollen lymph nodes are related to another condition.

Reel in Breathing

Severe anxiety and panic can make your breathing go out of control. It’s not just rapid breathing — many with anxiety attacks breathe in too much air because their anxiety makes them feel they can’t take deep breaths. Slowing down your breathing and breathing in from the stomach rather than trying to expand the chest can help dramatically. Please see this page for more information

You may also want to engage in more general anxiety and stress reduction strategies. These include the following:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep Breathing
  • Visualization
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Again, these are all designed to reduce your stress in the short term. You’ll still need to find an effective solution to control your anxiety in the long term and reduce any health anxiety you may have.

For that, you should strongly consider cognitive behavioral therapy, which is known to be very effective for reducing anxiety. Medications are also extremely helpful, and there are self-help techniques out there that some have found success with. Anxiety is a manageable condition provided you take the first step to seek treatment.

SUMMARY:

Whether or not anxiety causes the swelling of lymph nodes, or whether anxiety simply makes one more aware and cautious about the size of them is still an issue of medical debate. It’s clear that any perception of swelling isn’t dangerous, but since it tends to cause its own anxiety in many people, it is often best to treat anxiety to reduce that anxiety – and the swollen lymph node feeling – in the future. 

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!

Ask Doctor a Question

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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