Anxiety and Chemical Sensitivity, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated November 20, 2022

Chemical Sensitivity and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities anxiety symptoms

Chemical Sensitivity, including Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS), such as being overly sensitive to chemicals in the environment, manufacturing chemicals, perfumes, and chemicals in food, is a common anxiety disorder symptom.

Chemical Sensitivities can be a symptom of any anxiety disorder, such asanxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and others.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and chemical sensitivity and multiple chemical sensitivities symptoms.

Common Chemical Sensitivity and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Anxiety Symptom Descriptions

This anxiety disorder symptom is often described as:

  • You’ve become sensitive to chemicals in the environment.
  • You’ve noticed an increase in sensitivity to environmental chemicals, such as in food, perfume, manufactured products, the air, etc.
  • You notice you are now overly sensitive to environmental chemicals where you weren’t before.
  • You notice your body is overly reactive to chemicals you never used to be reactive to.
  • Your body has become super sensitive to medications and supplements, where you weren’t before.

This symptom can:

  • Occur occasionally, frequently, or persistently. For example, you may be more sensitive to environmental chemicals once and a while and not that often, experience a sensitivity off and on, or experience a sensitivity all the time.
  • Precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.
  • Precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no reason.
  • Range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe.
  • Come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
  • Change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background during your struggle with anxiety disorder.

All combinations and variations of the above are common.

This symptom can seem more noticeable when undistracted, resting, trying to sleep, or when waking up.

This symptom is often referred to as “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity” (MCS).

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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Why Anxiety Can Cause Chemical Sensitivity, Including Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

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.

Additional Medical Advisory Information.

Research over the last 20 years has found a link between stress and an increase in sensitivity to environmental chemicals.[1][2][3][4] This link is like the one between stress and an increase in allergies. You can read more about stress and allergies here.

Since anxiety behavior stresses the body, anxiety issues is a common cause and aggravator of chemical sensitivity.

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about how anxiety stresses the body.

In one study, researchers found that approximately one-half of patients with MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) in various studies met the criteria for depression and anxiety disorders.[5]

Moreover, many patients met the diagnostic criteria for somatoform disorders.[6] While the link between these psychiatric conditions and MCS wasn’t clear at the time, later research has confirmed the link to be stress.

Stress puts the body’s survival mechanism on hyper-alert. Part of this hyper-alertness is making our senses super sensitive so that the slightest threat from any part of the environment can be detected.

While the body can easily manage infrequent stress, it has more difficulty with chronic stress, which we call stress-response hyperstimulation. Chronic stress keeps the body on hyper-alert, which can make it more sensitive to chemicals within the environment.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[7][8]

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

Since each body is somewhat chemically unique, each person can experience a unique set of anxiety and stress symptoms, including some people experiencing MCS while others don’t.

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Other Factors

Other factors can create stress and cause anxiety-like symptoms, as well as aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

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How To Eliminate Anxiety-Caused Chemical Sensitivities

When this symptom is caused or aggravated by other factors, addressing those factors can reduce and eliminate it.

When chemical sensitivities are caused by stress, including anxiety-caused chronic stress (hyperstimulation), eliminating hyperstimulation will end this anxiety 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.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms of hyperstimulation, including anxiety-caused chemical sensitivities.

Hyperstimulation symptoms 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 chemical sensitivities.

Even so, since anxiety-caused chemical sensitivities are a common symptom of stress, especially anxiety-caused chronic stress, it's harmless and needn't be a cause for concern. ALL hyperstimulation-caused symptoms subside when hyperstimulation has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover and stabilize. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about it.

Anxiety symptoms often linger because:

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

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

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms stress the body, fueling hyperstimulation, 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.

Since the body can take a long time 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.

Eliminating hyperstimulation will bring results in time!

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Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors is the primary reason why anxiety symptoms persist.[9][10][11]

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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Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 60 percent of respondents said they had chemical sensitivities as an anxiety disorder symptom.

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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 Chemical Sensitivity and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Sorg, B A, and B M Prasad. “Potential Role of Stress and Sensitization in the Development and Expression of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.Environmental Health Perspectives, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 1997.

2. “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities.Multiple Chemical Sensitivities | Psychiatric Times.

3. Pall, M L. “Common Etiology of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity via Elevated Nitric Oxide/Peroxynitrite.Medical Hypotheses., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2001.

4. Magill, Michael K., and Anthony Suruda. “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome.American Family Physician, 1 Sept. 1998.

5. Simon GE. Psychiatric symptoms in multiple chemical sensitivity. Toxicol Ind Health. 1994;10(4-5):487–96.

6. Friedman MJ. Neurobiological sensitization models of post-traumatic stress disorder: their possible relevance to multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome. Toxicol Ind Health.

8. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

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

11. 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.