Suffering from anxiety can be a serious challenge. It can also lead to some troubling symptoms that can feel incredibly unusual. One of these issues caused by anxiety are tingling hands.
The tingling feeling often leads to further anxiety, because it makes people worry that something is wrong with their head or nervous system. It's an understandable worry because tingling hands can be caused by nerve issues, vitamin deficiencies, liver disease and more. However, tingling can also be caused by anxiety.
Tingling hands can be a frightening anxiety symptom. Some people experience tremendous fear that something is wrong with their heart or brain. Others worry about more minor but distressing physical causes, such as carpal tunnel syndrome - especially if you work in retail or with computers/typing.
But tingling hands can genuinely be an anxiety symptom. One thing that's true though - when tingling hands are caused by anxiety, there are almost always other anxiety symptoms too.
What Causes Tingling Hands?
First, it's important to remember that the "tingling hands" experience may be different for different people. Some experience sensations of prickling, “crawling”, stinging or even numbness. For some people the sensation is associated with pain in the hands also.
The more the symptom is affecting your life, the more you should consider seeing a doctor. Despite the likelihood that tingling hands are caused by anxiety, only a doctor can diagnose you for certain, and it's always a good idea to rule out other conditions.
When other issues have been ruled out and anxiety becomes the likely culprit, that's when you need support. But what causes tingling hands? The answer is almost always hyperventilation.
Understanding Hyperventilation in Those With Anxiety
Hyperventilation is often one of the least understood anxiety issues. It occurs when you breathe out too much carbon dioxide (CO2), a component of the air we breathe. While your body does need oxygen and generally breathes out CO2, your body needs a healthy amount of CO2 as well. When you hyperventilate you exhale more CO2 than you breathe in, and the balance is thrown off.
Most people think of hyperventilation as "breathing too quickly," and this is usually a feature. When you have an anxiety attack/panic attack, you'll often find that you're breathing incredibly fast, and that may cause you to hyperventilate.
But hyperventilation may also occur for other reasons, including:
- Thinking About Breathing Usually, our body controls our breathing automatically, without us having to think about it. When you focus your attention on your breathing, you start to take conscious control. That may cause you to take in or breathe out more air than your body would naturally, leading to hyperventilation.
- Taking Deeper Breaths During an anxiety attack, you may feel like you're not getting enough air, and that may cause you to try to take deeper breaths. Unfortunately, in many cases, you did already have enough air and that sensation was misleading, so your response makes your hyperventilation worse.
- Poor Breathing Habits Another situation that seems to occur more frequently in those with anxiety is that their breathing is more shallow than is helpful. Over time they may have come to breathe faster and more into the chest area, leading to a more rapid and less refreshing breath.
Anxiety can often lead to hyperventilation, and when it does it can cause a number of different symptoms, including tingling sensations in the hands.
Other Causes of Tingling Hands
Hyperventilation is the most common reason that tingling hands occur in those with anxiety, but it's not the only reason. The fight or flight response can also cause tingling because initially blood is directed away from the extremities. This leads to coldness or possibly numbness in the fingers. When the parasympathetic response kicks in, the blood flows back to the extremities and this can lead to a tingling sensation, like after a leg falls asleep.
Also, tingling hands can occur every day for reasons that are not health-related. For example, if you are sitting on your hands a certain way that reduces the blood circulation or pressing on a nerve it can make your hand start to tingle. If you already have anxiety, you may think about and worry about that tingling more than someone that doesn't have anxiety. It's not unusual for anxiety to cause typical sensations to feel much worse.
Anxiety Over Health
Because of the way anxiety affects the body, it can generate a form of secondary health anxiety itself. This can be one of the reasons that tingling hands can feel so frightening. Panic attacks, for example, can make people over-sensitive to their own physical sensations. When they experience symptoms - like tingling hands - they may interpret them as a sign of serious illness and experience a wave of anxiety that feels uncontrollable.
Anxiety can create your tingling hands, and it can make you react very strongly when you experience them. Anyone that says living with anxiety is easy has likely never tried it before.
How to Stop Tingling Hands From Anxiety
Since tingling hands is most commonly caused by hyperventilation, you should start by gaining awareness of your breathing. Try taking slower breaths is a start. Also, try to consciously breathe into the belly and lower body, rather than just into your chest. At first it may feel like you're not getting a full breath, but remember that hyperventilation causes the feeling of needing more air, even though the opposite is true.
You could also start walking. Make sure that you're getting good blood flow. As the muscles are exercised, your breathing will often adopt a healthier rhythm, and your hyperventilation should decrease. Once you feel you’re managing with your tingling hands, it's time to work on the anxiety itself.