Brain Burning Anxiety

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated February 28, 2022

burning brain anxiety symptom

Brain burning, burning brain, feeling like your brain is hot, burning, or on fire is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias, to name a few.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and having a "burning brain" feeling.

Common Anxiety Brain Burning Symptom Descriptions

  • It suddenly feels like your brain is burning, hot, or on fire.
  • It feels like the brain has heated up and is “hot” for no apparent reason.
  • It feels like there is a sudden surge of “something hot” being flooded into the brain.
  • It feels like the brain has suddenly become flushed or hot inside.
  • It feels like the “brain” has been flushed with hot fluid, causing the brain to feel “hot,” “tingly,” or flushed feeling.
  • Some people describe this symptom as having a “hot brain” feeling.
  • The “brain burning” feeling can also be accompanied by hot feeling scalp, burning scalp feeling, burning head or face feeling, or none of these.
  • This “hot” or “burning” feeling feels inside the head and brain and not the outside like the skin or scalp.

This symptom can occur occasionally or frequently. It can also occur as a result of a stress response, or all by itself.

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms or occur by itself.

This symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.

This symptom 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.

This symptom can change from day to day and moment to moment.

This “brain burning” feeling can occur at any time of day or night.

All the above combinations and variations are common.

This symptom can seem more noticeable when undistracted.

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

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

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Causes

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Click the link for Additional Medical Advisory Information.

1. Active Stress Response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, causing many body-wide changes that give the body an emergency “boost” of energy and resources when we believe we could be in danger.

This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

A part of the stress response changes includes shunting blood away from non-vital organs (stomach and digestive system, etc.) and to vital organs, which includes the brain. This shunting action can cause a sudden “surge” of blood to the brain, making the brain feel hot, burning, or on “fire” for some people.

Frequent activation of the stress response can cause frequent “brain burning” symptoms.

Also, the stress response changes blood pressure. Consequently, a sudden stress response can cause a sudden change in blood pressure, which can be felt as a “brain burning” feeling.

Moreover, stress hormones alter the relationship between neurotransmitters in the brain so that the brain is better equipped to deal with an emergency. For instance, some neurotransmitters are increased (such as glutamate) and some are decreased (such as GABA). This sudden change in neurotransmitter relationship can be experienced as a “burning in the brain” feeling.

Furthermore, stress hormones stimulate the nervous system, which includes the brain. Nervous system stimulation can feel like a “hot” or “burning brain” due to the rapid increase in electrical activity in the parts of the brain responsible for danger detection and reaction.

Additionally, the stress response can cause a dramatic increase in perspiration to keep the body cool. A sudden increase in perspiration can make it feel like the head and brain are “hot.”

Any one or combination of the above stress response actions can cause a “brain burning” feeling.

A stress response triggered by anxious behavior is a common cause of the brain feeling like it’s hot, burning, or on fire.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the many stress response changes.

However, when stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t recover.

Incomplete recovery can leave the body in a state of semi-stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated.

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Frequent “brain burning” feelings are a common indication of hyperstimulation (chronic stress) and how it can affect blood flow, neurotransmitter changes, and nervous system activity.

3. Equilibrium Dysregulation

Hyperstimulation can have an adverse effect on the body’s equilibrium system. Symptoms such as feeling dizzy, lightheaded, and having tracking and stabilization problems (where it seems like it takes the brain a few moments to stabilize after shifting your focus) can all be caused by how hyperstimulation affects the body’s equilibrium.

These “focusing” and “stabilization” problems can be experienced as a “hot brain” feeling that is accompanied by a temporary lightheaded/floating feeling as the hyperstimulated brain works to establish equilibrium.

4. Medication

Certain psychotropic and sleep medications can cause “burning brain” feelings as side effects.[5] It’s best to discuss your medication with your doctor if you suspect your “brain burning” symptoms are being caused by your medication.

5. Sleep Disruption/Insomnia

A lack of sleep can affect how the body manages homeostasis and how the brain functions.[6] These factors can cause involuntary symptoms, including this one.

Restoring good sleep can be enough to stop a “burning brain” feeling caused by sleep disruption.

6. Other Factors

Other factors can create stress and aggravate this anxiety symptom, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

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Treatment

When other factors cause or aggravate this anxiety symptom, addressing the specific cause can reduce and eliminate this symptom.

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will end this symptom.

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 needn’t be a cause for concern.

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes burning brain symptoms, eliminating hyperstimulation will end this symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

Recovery Support members can view chapters 5, 6, 7, 14 and more for more detailed information about recovering from hyperstimulation and anxiety disorder.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this one.

Symptoms of chronic stress subside as the body regains its normal, non-hyperstimulated health.

However, eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger longer than expected.

As long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated, it can present symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time, including this one.

Even so, since a brain burning feeling is a common symptom of stress, including anxiety-caused stress, it's harmless and needn't be a cause for concern. It will subside when unhealthy stress has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about it.

Anxiety symptoms often linger because:

  • The body is still being stressed (from stressful circumstances or anxious behavior).
  • Your stress hasn't diminished enough or for long enough.
  • Your body hasn't completed its recovery work.

Addressing the reason for lingering symptoms will allow the body to recover.

Most often, lingering anxiety symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN'T a sign of a medical problem. This is especially true if you have had your symptoms evaluated by your doctor and they have been solely attributed to anxiety or stress.

Chronic anxiety symptoms subside when hyperstimulation is eliminated. As the body recovers and stabilizes, all chronic anxiety symptoms will slowly diminish and eventually disappear.

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms create stress, these behaviors can interfere with recovery.

Passively accepting your symptoms – allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them – while doing your recovery work will cause their cessation in time.

Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

Keep in mind that it can take a long time for the body to recover from hyperstimulation. It's best to faithfully work at your recovery despite the lack of apparent progress.

However, if you persevere with your recovery work, you will succeed.

You also have to do your recovery work FIRST before your body can recover. The cumulative effects of your recovery work will produce results down the road. And, the body's stimulation has to diminish before symptoms can subside.

  • Reducing stress.
  • Increasing rest.
  • Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms.
  • Containing anxious behavior.
  • Being patient.

These will bring results in time.

When you do the right work, the body has to recover!

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Short-term strategies

Even though eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate chronic anxiety symptoms, including a burning brain feeling, some people have found containing anxiousness, reducing stress, increasing rest, and getting regular good sleep can help alleviate this symptom.

Certainly, reducing stress overall and for a long enough period can significantly reduce episodes of brain burning symptoms.

However, keep in mind that each person can have a unique symptom experience since each person is somewhat physically, chemically, psychologically, and emotionally unique. What might work for one person might not for another.

Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors cause issues with anxiety. As such, they are the primary reason why anxiety symptoms persist.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

Addressing your underlying factors (Level Two recovery) is most important if you want lasting success.

Addressing Level Two recovery can help you:

  • Contain anxious behavior.
  • Become unafraid of anxiety symptoms and the strong feelings of anxiety.
  • End anxiety symptoms.
  • Successfully address the underlying factors that so often cause issues with anxiety.
  • End what can feel like out-of-control worry.

All our recommended anxiety therapists have had anxiety disorder and overcame it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder and their Master's Degree and above professional training gives them insight other therapists don't have.

If you want to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, any one of our recommended therapists would be a good choice.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to treat anxiety disorder, especially if you have persistent symptoms and difficulty containing anxious behavior, such as worry.

In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.

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Brain Burning Frequent Questions

Is brain burning symptoms a sign of a serious medical or mental health problem?

Typically, no. Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of feeling like your brain is burning, hot, or on fire. Reducing stress and containing anxious behavior can reduce and eliminate this common anxiety symptom.

However, it’s best to discuss all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms with your doctor to ensure they are solely anxiety- or stress- related.

Can anxiety cause a burning brain feeling?

Yes, anxiety can cause a brain burning feeling. Since anxiety activates the stress response, which stresses the body, and stress is a common cause of a burning brain sensation, anxiety can cause a brain burning feeling.

Can stress cause a burning brain feeling?

Yes, stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of feeling like your brain is burning, hot, or on fire. Approximately 40% of anxious people get this common anxiety symptom.

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Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 40 percent of respondents said they had “brain burning” symptoms because of their anxiety.

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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 brain surges anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Selye H. Endocrine reactions during stress. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 1956;35:182–193. [PubMed]

2. Folk, Jim and Folk, Marilyn. “The Stress Response And Anxiety Symptoms.” anxietycentre.com, August 2019.

3. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

4. Yaribeygi, Habib, et al. “The Impact of Stress on Body Function: A Review.” EXCLI Journal, Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors, 2017.

5. NIDA. (2012, April 19). "Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines' Addictive Properties."" 25 Sep. 2019

6. Krause, Adam, et al. "The sleep-deprived human brain." Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 18 May 2017.

7. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

8. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

9. Kingston, Dawn.“Advantages of E-Therapy Over Conventional Therapy.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 Dec. 2017.

10. C., Lewis, et al. "Efficacy, cost-effectiveness and acceptability of self-help interventions for anxiety disorders: systematic review." British Journal of Psychiatry, Jan. 2012.

11. Kumar, Shefali, et al. "Mobile and traditional cognitive behavioral therapy programs for generalized anxiety disorder: A cost-effectiveness analysis." Journal PLOS, 4 Jan. 2018.

12. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.