Looking Pale, Blanched – Anxiety Symptoms

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated May 19, 2021

looking pale face blanched

Looking pale, blanched, pasty, or without color is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including anxiety attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, and others.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your anxiety symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test or Anxiety Disorder Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including chest tightness.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and looking blanched (pale).

Looking pale, blanched, blanching anxiety symptoms common descriptions:

  • Your face looks blanched (white), pale, pasty (colorless)
  • You look like you’ve lost the color in your face or skin.
  • Some people may say that you look “white” or as if you’ve seen a ghost.
  • Some people may ask if you are feeling okay because you look ‘sick’ or ‘sickly.’

Looking pale anxiety symptoms can persistently affect one area of the body, such as the face, looking pale can shift and affect another area or areas of the face or body, and it can migrate all over and affect many areas of the face or body over and over again.

Looking pale anxiety symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may look pale once in a while and not that often, look pale off and on, or look pale all the time.

Looking pale anxiety symptoms may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

Looking pale anxiety symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

Looking pale can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

Looking pale can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Looking pale is not restricted to the face, as it can affect the skin on any area of the body.

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Why causes the looking pale anxiety symptom?

Medical Advisory

There are many reasons why the looking pale anxiety symptom can occur. The most common are:

1. The stress response can cause a change in the body’s blood flow.

Being anxious (worried, apprehensive, fretful, fearful) causes the body to produce the stress response.[1][2] The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Because the body contains a finite amount of blood (3 to 6 quarts, or 2.8 to 5.7 liters—the amount is dependent upon the body’s height and weight), one of the many changes the fight or flight response brings about is blood being shunted away from some parts of the body so that the areas of the body vital for survival have more blood than those less important for survival. For example, blood is moved from the skin, hands, and feet, and sent to the brain (so the brain has more fuel to think), heart (so the heart can pump suitable quantities of blood to the vital areas), and muscles (to make the body stronger and quicker), to name a few.

The body shunts blood around by dilating some blood vessels (vasodilation) and constricting others (vasoconstriction).

Since red blood cells give blood its red color, when blood flow is reduced to the skin, the skin loses some of its “reddish” hue. The movement of blood away from the skin on the face leaves the face looking “white,” blanched, and pale.

In addition to the perception of danger, stress responses can also occur involuntarily when the body has become hyperstimulated due to too dramatic or too frequent stress responses — hyperstimulation can cause the body to act erratically and more involuntarily than normal, which can cause involuntary stress responses and its changes (including a change in blood flow). As overstimulation increases, so does the likelihood of the body’s erratic and more involuntary behavior. This is also the reason blanching can occur ‘out of the blue’ and persist for no apparent reason.

2. The way the body manages body temperature.

The body also shunts blood around to manage its internal temperature.[3] or example, when the body is too cold, the body constricts blood vessels in the skin so that less blood is exposed to the cooler external elements, which reduces heat loss. When the body is too warm, however, it dilates blood vessels in the skin to allow more blood to be exposed to the cooler elements. So blanching might also be caused by how the body is managing its internal temperature.

3. The level of oxygen in the blood.

To function properly, the body needs a constant level of oxygen circulating in the blood to cells and tissues.[4] When this oxygen falls below a certain level, hypoxemia can occur, which is often experienced as shortness of breath and/or looking pale. Low oxygen level in the blood can occur from breathing too shallowly or holding your breath, which many anxious people do when stressed or anxious.

4. The type of fears at the root of the stress response.

The types and degrees of fears can trigger different types and degrees of stress responses. For example, being suddenly frightened or experiencing an emotional shock can cause blanching as the blood is shunted away from the skin, including the skin on the face. Yet, being embarrassed (fear of looking foolish) often causes blood to flow to the face causing blushing and flushing.

At this time, it isn’t known exactly why these differences occur, but that they do. No matter the exact reasons, both blanching and blushing can occur due to the above factors, including the stress response and hyper stimulation.

Nevertheless, like most anxiety-caused sensations and symptoms, this symptom isn’t harmful. It’s just a consequence of the stress response, whether caused voluntarily or involuntarily. As you address your hyper stimulation and better manage your anxiety, this symptom should disappear and become a nonissue.

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How to get rid of the looking pale anxiety symptoms?

When this looking pale anxiety symptom is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this anxiety symptom should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When the looking pale anxiety symptom is caused by persistent stress, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered from its overly stressed state, the looking pale anxiety symptoms will completely subside. Therefore, the looking pale, blanched anxiety symptoms needn’t be a cause for concern.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about this feeling. Again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or sustained stress, the looking pale anxiety symptom will completely disappear.

For detailed explanations about all anxiety symptoms, why anxiety symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Looking Pale Face, White As A Ghost, Blanched.


1. Ayada, C, et al. “The Relationship of Stress and Blood Pressure Effectors.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

2. Harvard Health Publishing. “Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health Blog.

3. Vinkers, C H, et al. “The Effect of Stress on Core and Peripheral Body Temperature in Humans.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2013.

4. “Hypoxia and Hypoxemia.” WebMD, WebMD.