Anxiety is a common mental health challenge we can all experience from time to time. It can manifest in various distressing symptoms including mood swings, anger and irritability, and panic attacks.
As well as these common symptoms, many people report sensations such as tingling in the face, a feeling of numbness across the body, or even pins and needles sensations. These experiences of numbness can be particularly unsettling.
How does anxiety cause numbness?
When a person experiences anxiety, the body's stress response is activated, leading to the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones can affect blood flow and nerve sensitivity, which may result in sensations of numbness, tingling, or pins and needles in various parts of the body, including the face.
The sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the body's "fight, flight, freeze, flop or friend" response, is closely linked to anxiety. During anxious episodes, the body may undergo changes that affect blood vessel constriction and nerve function, leading to altered sensations.
How long does anxiety numbness last?
The duration of anxiety-induced numbness can vary from person to person and depends on several factors. In most cases, anxiety numbness is temporary and should ease once the body's stress response returns to baseline levels. Depending on the severity of the anxiety, it may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.
The duration of anxiety numbness can also be influenced by the severity of anxiety, individual stress tolerance, and how well a person copes with anxiety-related symptoms. If someone experiences frequent or prolonged anxiety episodes, they may also notice more frequent occurrences of numbness.
Anxiety-induced numbness is a natural human response to a perceived threat. In isolation, it is likely to be harmless and should not cause lasting physical damage. If your anxiety is causing lasting bouts of numbness, or is occurring on a regular basis, it could be a sign you are suffering from a type of anxiety disorder.
Body parts affected by anxiety numbness
Anxiety can cause numbness in certain parts of the body due to the body's stress response and the impact of stress hormones on nerve sensitivity and blood flow. These numb and tingling sensations can affect the skin or muscles in various parts of your body, including your arms, hands, fingers, toes, legs, feet, head, face, stomach, mouth, tongue, lips, or any other region.
Among the various ways anxiety-induced numbness can present itself, tingling sensations in the face are relatively common. Our faces have a big network of nerves, making it particularly susceptible to heightened sensitivity during anxious periods. Anxiety can narrow blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the face and other body parts.
As a result, you might start feeling this tingly sensation, or what some people describe as a “pins and needles" sensation spreading across your cheeks, jawline, or even around the eyes and nose. These anxiety pins and needles can be alarming and make you even more anxious, creating a never-ending cycle of distress.
Other areas of the body that can be affected include:
- Hands and fingers: anxiety-induced numbness may affect the hands and fingers, leading to a loss of sensation, tingling, or a "falling asleep" sensation.
- Feet and toes: similar to the hands, anxiety numbness may also be experienced in the feet and toes.
- Arms and legs: numbness or tingling sensations may be felt in the arms and legs, often referred to as "limbs falling asleep."
- Chest and heart area: some individuals may experience sensations of numbness or tightness in the chest or around the heart during intense anxiety or panic attacks.
- Scalp: anxiety-induced numbness can even extend to the scalp, leading to a tingling sensation or the feeling of "pins and needles" in the head.
What does anxiety numbness feel like?
Anxiety numbness can feel different for each individual, but it is commonly described as a tingling, prickling, or pins and needles sensation in various parts of the body.
Specifically, anxiety numbness may feel like:
- Tingling: a mild, electric-like sensation that may occur in the face, hands, feet, or other body parts.
- Pins and needles: similar to the feeling of a limb "falling asleep," where there is a tingling and sometimes mildly painful sensation.
- Numbness: a loss of sensation in certain body areas, which might feel like the area is "numb" or lacking feeling.
- Prickling: a sensation akin to tiny pinpricks on the skin, often felt on the face, hands, or feet.
These sensations can vary in intensity and duration, and they can occur in different body parts simultaneously or sequentially. Some individuals may experience anxiety numbness occasionally during particularly anxious moments, while others may notice it more frequently or persistently, especially during periods of chronic anxiety or stress.
What to do if you experience numbness with anxiety
Numbness caused by anxiety is typically temporary and does not cause lasting physical harm. To manage these sensations effectively, there are many anxiety coping strategies you could adopt. Try deep breathing exercises, or relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation.
If your anxiety is severely affecting your ability to live your life, then it might be time to reach out for professional support. Speak to your GP for an initial conversation about symptoms and treatment options, or contact a private provider of anxiety treatment like Priory. We provide world-class treatment for mental health at a network of UK-based hospitals and wellbeing centres.
For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or submit an online enquiry form here.