Muscle Twitching Anxiety Symptoms

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

muscle twitching anxiety symptoms

Muscle twitching, including muscle spasms, twitches, cramps, pulsing, throbbing, tremors, and involuntary muscle movements are common symptoms of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic and anxiety attacks, 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, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test. The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including muscle twitching.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and muscle-related symptoms, including muscle twitching.

Common descriptions of the muscle twitching anxiety symptoms:

  • A certain muscle, group, or groups of muscles twitch (jerk) involuntarily. Even if you try and relax the muscle, group, or groups of muscles, the twitching continues.
  • This symptom is often described as: muscles that pulse, throb, twitch, spasm, tremor, vibrate, or contract uncontrollably.
  • The twitching can be slow and sporadic, intermittent, and come in waves, or it can be persistent and tremor-like.
  • Muscle twitching can affect any one muscle, one group of muscles, or many groups of muscles.
  • The twitching may appear for a few brief moments, last for minutes or hours, or persist for days, weeks, or indefinitely.
  • Twitching can affect ANY muscle or group of muscles in the body, including those in the head, face, eyes, mouth, neck, shoulders, back, chest, abdomen, stomach, esophagus, groin, genitalia, arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, toes, etc.

Muscle twitching anxiety symptoms can persistently affect one muscle, group of muscles, or groups of muscles only; can shift and affect another muscle, group of muscles, or groups of muscles; and can migrate all over and affect many muscles or groups of muscles.

Anxiety muscle twitching can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you have muscle twitching once in a while and not that often, have it off and on, or have twitching all the time.

Anxiety muscle twitching can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.

Anxiety muscle twitching 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.

Anxiety muscle twitching 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.

Anxiety muscle twitching can change from day to day and from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

Anxiety muscle twitching can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up from sleep.

The terms “nervous tick” and “nervous twitch” are often used to describe muscle twitching caused by anxiety and stress.

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What causes anxiety muscle twitching?

Medical Advisory

There are several reasons why anxiety can cause muscle twitching, including:

1. Stress Response

Anxious behavior, which creates anxiety, activates the stress response, also known as the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people free when they are afraid).[1][2]

The stress response causes many body-wide changes that prepare the body for emergency action. Because of the many changes, stress responses stress the body.

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about the many body-wide changes.

Visit our “What Causes Anxiety” article for more information about the link between anxious behavior and anxiety.

Part of the stress response changes include:

  • Shunts blood to the muscles so that they are better prepared to either fight or flee.
  • Tightens muscles so that they are more resilient to harm.
  • Increases the electrical activity in the nervous system so that the body is more sensitive and reactive to danger.
  • Increases blood sugar so that the body has increased energy to fight or flee.

Any one or combination of changes can cause muscles to twitch.

Many people experience muscle twitching when they are afraid.

Muscle twitching is a common symptom of anxiety and an active stress response.

2. Stress-response hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly.

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

Incomplete recovery can cause the body to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.[3][4]

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

Muscle twitching, which can affect any muscles or groups of muscles in the body, is a common symptom of hyperstimulation.

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

Hyperstimulation is a common cause of chronic muscle twitching, especially when you don’t feel anxious or stressed, or when you are relaxing or trying to sleep.

Many stressed and anxious people experience muscle twitching symptoms.

In addition to anxiety and stress, other factors can cause and aggravate muscle twitching. For instance:

3. Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation stresses the body and causes an increase in cortisol (a powerful stress hormone).[5] This combination can cause and aggravate muscle twitching. This is especially true if your body is already hyperstimulated.

If you have been having problems sleeping, sleep deprivation could be causing or contributing to your muscle twitching.

4. Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their “stimulating effect” by increasing stress hormone secretion.[6] An increase in stress hormones is a common cause of muscle twitching.

5. Nutritional deficiency

Stress, including anxiety-caused stress, often causes nutritional deficiencies.[7] Nutritional deficiencies, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, can adversely affect the nervous system, causing muscle twitching.[8]

6. Dehydration

Muscle mass is comprised of 75 percent water. Water also helps to carry nutrients and minerals to support muscle function. Dehydration is another common cause and aggravator of muscle twitching.[9]

7. Medication

Many medications, including common psychotropic medications (anti-anxiety, antidepressants, mood stabilizers, etc.) can cause a variety of side effects when starting them, taking them regularly, missing dosages, switching to another medication, in combination with other medications and over-the-counter medications, and when discontinuing.[10]

Muscle twitching is a common side effect of many medications, especially psychotropic medications.

8. Recreational drugs

Many recreational drugs stimulate the body either when taking them or after the drug has worn off.[11][12]

As mentioned, an increase in stimulation is a common cause of muscle twitching.

9. Hyperventilation and hypoventilation

Hyperventilation, such as from over-breathing, can increase oxygen levels in the blood, and hypoventilation, such as from under-breathing, can reduce oxygen levels in the blood.

Too much or too little oxygen in the blood can cause muscle twitching.

10. Hormone changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways, as well as hormones affect each other.[13] A change in hormones, such as from a change of life, monthly menstruation cycle, or chronically elevated stress hormones, can cause many anxiety-like symptoms, as well as aggravate existing anxiety disorder symptoms, including muscle twitching.

11. Low blood sugar

The body converts the food we eat into blood sugar (and other nutrients to help the body rebuild). Much like gas for a vehicle, the body uses blood sugar for fuel.

When the body's blood sugar is within the normal range, the body performs well, and we have a healthy level of energy. However, if blood sugar is allowed to drop too low, even within the normal range, we can experience symptoms of low blood sugar.[14]

Low blood sugar is a common cause and aggravator of muscle twitching.

Since stress, including anxiety-caused stress, can use up the body’s energy faster than normal, the combination of stress and not eating regularly can cause intermittent and chronic muscle twitching.

The Recovery Support area contains a more in-depth explanation about anxiety and muscle twitching symptoms.

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How To Get Rid Of Anxiety Muscle Twitching Symptoms

When muscle twitching is caused by sleep deprivation, stimulants, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, medication, recreational drug use, hyper or hypoventilation, hormone changes, or low blood sugar, addressing the cause can alleviate muscle twitching symptoms.

When muscle twitching symptoms are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, as the anxious and stress response changes come to an end, this anxiety symptom should subside.

Keep in mind, it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. This is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When muscle twitching symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it can take much longer for the body to recover, and to where this anxiety symptom subsides.

Reducing stress, increasing rest, getting regular good sleep, regular deep relaxation, regular mild to moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet, and containing anxious behavior can help reduce and eventually eliminate hyperstimulation and its symptoms, including acute or chronic muscle twitching.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, symptoms of hyperstimulation subside, including this one.
Acceptance
Muscle twitching is a common indication of anxiety and hyperstimulation. Instead of worrying about it, or worse, resisting and fighting it, passively accepting this symptom in the short-term can reduce its impact in time.

Since worrying and distressing about anxiety symptoms is anxious behavior, which creates anxiety and its symptoms, these behaviors can prolong anxiety symptoms rather than eliminate them.

If you’d like more information about how to eliminate anxiety symptoms, including acute and chronic muscle twitching, the Recovery Support area of our website has a great deal of in-depth self-help information.

We explain important recovery concepts, such as:

  • Containment
  • Passive acceptance
  • The challenges of eliminating hyperstimulation and its symptoms
  • How to extinguish fears
  • How to overcome stubborn symptoms and fears
  • How to overcome panic disorder
  • How to overcome a fear of anxiety
  • How to deal with anxiety sleep-related problems
  • And a host of other important anxiety disorder recovery concepts, tips, and strategies.

Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause anxiety issues are the number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist.

Dealing with your underlying factors, which we call Level Two recovery, is the most important work overall if you want to gain lasting success over anxiety disorder.

If you have difficulty containing, eliminating your symptoms, overcoming your anxiety issues, overcoming a fear of anxiety and its strong feelings, or having what seems like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

All of our recommended anxiety therapists have personally had anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Master's Degree level and above professional training makes them a good choice when wanting to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, its symptoms, and worry.

Working with a therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder.[15][16][17]

You can check our recommended therapist availabilities and make an appointment using the links below:

Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the anxiety symptom muscle twitching. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.


Muscle twitching is a common symptom of elevated stress, including the stress anxiety can cause. Jim Folk experienced muscle twitching to a severe degree during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.

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 muscle twitching anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2020.

2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health, 6 July 2020.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

4. 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.

5. Basta, Maria, et al. "CHRONIC INSOMNIA AND STRESS SYSTEM." Sleep Medicine Clinics, June 2007.

6. Lovallo, W. R., Whitsett, T. L., Al'Absi, M., Sung, B. H., Vincent, A. S., & Wilson, M. F. (n.d.). Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Retrieved May 02, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

7. McCabe, Delia. "Dietary supplementation to manage anxiety and stress, hope, hype or research-based evidence?" JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports, Feb. 2017.

8. Hammond, Nancy, et al. "Nutritional Neuropathies." Neurological Clinics, May 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4199287/

9. Lau, Wing Yin, et al. "Water intake after dehydration makes muscles more susceptible to cramp but electrolytes reverse that effect." BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 5 Mar. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6407543/

10. National Institute of Mental Health. "Mental Health Medications." Oct. 2016, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/mental-health-medications/index.shtml

11. Enevoldson, T.P. "Recreational drugs and their neurological consequences." BMJ Journals, 2004, https://jnnp.bmj.com/content/75/suppl_3/iii9

12. Schierenbeck, T, et al. "Effect of illicit recreational drugs upon sleep: cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana." Sleep Medicine Review, Oct. 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18313952

13. "Hormones and the Endocrine System." John Hopkins Medicine, retrieved 27 Nov 2020, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/hormones-and-the-endocrine-system

14. "Hypoglycemia (Low Blood sugar)." American Diabetes Association, retrieved 27 nov 2020, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/medication-management/blood-glucose-testing-and-control/hypoglycemia

15. 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, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.

16. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.

17. 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.