When we’re anxious, our bodies go into fight, flight, or freeze response to regulate our temperature, which may result in chills. Chills affect us all at different points in our lives. Often, this is our body’s response to being cold. But you might not know that chills can also be a symptom of anxiety.
Physiological reactions to anxiety can cause your blood to flow less efficiently and, therefore, leave you with chills. If you have chills from anxiety, you can begin to feel shaky and start to shiver. Because of these symptoms, you may think you have no control over your body when anxious.
If you experience chills as a symptom of anxiety, you’re not alone. There are strategies to help you manage this symptom.
Can anxiety make your hands feel cold?
Yes, anxiety can lead to various physical symptoms, and chills are one of them. However, chills are not a constant feature of all types of anxiety; they typically occur in specific forms.
If you’re dealing with anxiety chills, you might notice symptoms like shivering, shaking, cold flashes, and sweating. This happens because when you’re anxious, your body tries to regulate temperature by simultaneously promoting and preventing heat loss, resulting in the sensation of chills or sweating, as explained in a review.
While the body often heats up during various types of anxiety, the sensation of feeling chilly tends to be more specific, commonly occurring during panic or specific phobias. Anxiety chills are associated with particular types of anxiety, such as flying phobia and panic attacks, rather than being a common feature across all forms of anxiety.
Your brain triggers the fight, flight, or freeze response during anxiety to protect you. For instance, if you suddenly find yourself sweating and then shivering when anxious, it’s your brain’s attempt to regulate what’s happening inside your body.
Matthew Boland, PhD, a clinical psychologist, suggests that anxiety chills might be misinterpreted sensations occurring alongside the physical fight or flight sensations of anxiety. This misinterpretation may stem from the difficulty some individuals with anxiety have in accurately understanding physical sensations in their bodies.
There are various reasons why you might feel cold when experiencing anxiety, a symptom that’s not often discussed as it typically doesn’t last long. Some common causes include:
Cold from sweat
Anxiety triggers the fight or flight response, releasing adrenaline that heats up your body. Sweating follows, and exposure to cold air can then make you feel chilly. While cold from sweat itself is not a concern, the underlying anxiety may contribute to discomfort.
Cold hands and feet from hyperventilation
Hyperventilation, common in those with anxiety, can lead to cold sensations, especially in the hands and feet. Rapid breathing expels excess carbon dioxide, needed for proper bodily function. Reduced efficiency in blood flow caused by hyperventilation may result in cooling, particularly in extremities like hands and feet, creating an overall sensation of coldness.
Feeling cold chills due to fear
Many people get cold chills when fear suddenly overwhelms them, especially before anxiety attacks. People who recognize the signs of an impending panic attack or fear it due to common triggers often experience a chilling sensation up their spine. Even those with frightening thoughts may have encountered this reaction.
This chill is a result of the activation of the fight-or-flight system. Although not entirely clear why the body reacts this way, it seems to be linked to the immediate release of epinephrine/adrenaline. This response could be your body’s way of preventing a rapid increase in body temperature caused by the subsequent adrenaline rush. Essentially, your body may be cooling you down before the heat-up phase to regulate temperature changes.
Over-sensitivity to normal cold
Another factor to consider is an increased sensitivity to feeling cold. Individuals dealing with anxiety, especially those with panic disorder, often become more attuned to physical sensations. What might be dismissed by someone without anxiety becomes a focal point for those with anxiety, contributing to heightened awareness.
When feeling colder, individuals with anxiety may interpret it as a sign of a problem, even if they are just a bit chilly or humid. While someone without anxiety might ignore it, those with anxiety feel the cold more intensely, leading to increased anxiety and a belief that the chill is indicative of something more significant.
Why do your fingertips get cold when you’re nervous?
According to this, your fingertips get cold when you’re nervous associated with Raynaud’s phenomenon.
Raynaud’s phenomenon (RP) is a condition where certain blood vessels, often in the fingers and toes, tighten excessively in response to cold or emotional stress.
Normally, when it’s cold, the vessels supplying blood to the skin narrow, a process known as “vasoconstriction.” This minimizes heat loss by redirecting blood into deeper tissues, preserving a normal internal temperature. In warm conditions, these vessels widen, increasing blood flow to the skin’s surface, allowing heat to escape and preventing the core body temperature from rising dangerously.
The skin has specialized “thermoregulatory” vessels that respond to temperature changes, with high density in fingers and toes. Controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (also active during stress), these vessels can constrict excessively in response to cold or emotional stress, leading to cold fingers and toes in people with RP.
In RP, the mechanisms governing vasoconstriction are thought to be altered. The vessels overreact to cold or stress, resulting in a Raynaud’s attack. This event involves three phases with distinct skin colour changes. Initially, severe vasoconstriction causes the affected areas to feel cold and appear white due to minimal blood flow. Then, the skin turns purplish-blue (acrocyanosis) as blood flow gradually returns. Once the vessel fully recovers, it dilates, causing the skin to blush and become pink or red as normal blood flow resumes.
Tips for dealing with cold hands caused by anxiety
The main focus in addressing cold hands due to anxiety is managing the anxiety itself. Here are some strategies to help alleviate this specific symptom:
- Warm-Up Exercises: Perform simple hand exercises like rotating your wrists or clenching and unclenching your fists to enhance blood circulation in the hands.
- Heat Packs: Use heat packs for immediate, albeit temporary, relief from cold hands. Applying an external heat source prompts the body to redirect blood flow to the extremities.
- Anxiety Management Techniques: Incorporate stress management and anxiety-reducing activities into your routine. Practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular physical activity can gradually alleviate anxiety symptoms, including cold hands.
- Medical Consultation: If you’re dealing with persistent anxiety or the cold hands symptom persists, consult with a healthcare provider. They can identify the underlying cause and devise an appropriate treatment plan. Seeking professional guidance is crucial for long-term relief.
It’s completely normal to feel cold when you’re dealing with anxiety or depression. However, if these feelings start affecting your daily life, it’s important to talk to a medical professional. Feeling cold might be a sign of an anxiety attack or severe depression.
While feeling cold is a common reaction to anxiety or depression, for some, it could indicate a more serious issue like hypothermia. If you find yourself excessively cold, especially if you’re shivering or shaking, it’s crucial to reach out to a medical professional for guidance.