Numb Extremities Anxiety Symptom

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated August 12, 2021

numb extremities anxiety symptom

Arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, or toes feel numb, such as feeling like they are anesthetized, are common symptoms of anxiety disorder.  Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and anxiety and panic attack disorder.

This article explains why anxiety, stress, and depression can cause numb extremities and what you can do to alleviate this common symptom.

Numb Extremities Symptom Descriptions:

This common anxiety, stress, and depression symptom is often described as:

  • It feels like an arm, hand, finger, leg, foot, or toe is usually numb, like it has been anesthetized. While you can still use it, and it still has the feelings when you pinch or poke it, it feels numbish.
  • It feels like an arm, hand, finger, leg, foot, or toe is not a part of your body even when you can still use it and it functions normally.
  • It feels like an arm, hand, finger, leg, foot, or toe is foreign for some reason that you can’t explain.
  • An extremity or extremities feel odd, “different,” strange in some way, and not “your own.”

Numb extremities can occur rarely, frequently, or persistently. For example, an extremity feels numb once in a while, feels numb off and on, or feels numb all the time and every day.

Numb extremities can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.

They can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress or occur "out of the blue" and for no reason.

Numb extremities can be experienced in a wide range of degrees, from barely noticeable to severe.

This anxiety symptom can also come in waves where it feels strong one moment and disappears the next.

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

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

This symptom can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, trying to go to sleep or when waking up, and when moving or using the extremity.

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: Why Anxiety Causes Numb Extremities

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms be discussed with your doctor as there are medical conditions and medications that can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

If you've done that and your doctor has attributed your symptoms solely to anxiety or stress, you can be confident there isn't a medical condition or medication causing your symptoms.

Anxiety can cause numb extremities in many ways. The most common include:

1. The Stress Response

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response. The stress response prepares the body for immediate emergency action – to either fight or flee.

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

Some of the stress response changes include:

  • Increases blood sugar so that we have an instant boost of energy.
  • Increases heart rate and respiration to accommodate the increase in energy.
  • Increases electrical activity in the nervous system (which includes the brain).
  • Increases most of the body’s senses.
  • Tightens muscles so that the body is more resilient to damage.
  • Shunts blood to parts of the body more vital for survival, such as the brain, vital organs, and extremities, and away from parts of the body less vital for survival, such as the stomach, digestive system, and skin.
  • Suppresses sensitivity to pain.

To name a few.

For instance, muscle tension, increased blood flow to the extremities, pain suppression, heightened nervous system activity, increased respiration, and increased sensory perception can all cause an acute feeling of numbness in the extremities.

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about the many changes caused by the stress response.

As the degree of stress response increases, so can the likelihood of having symptoms, including extremities that feel numb, foreign, or “different.”

Many anxious people feel numbness in one or many extremities when anxious, especially when really anxious or afraid.

Numb extremities is a common symptom of anxiety.

2. Hyperstimulation

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

When stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly anxious behavior, the body doesn’t completely recover.

Incomplete recovery can create a state of semi-stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

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

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

For instance, hyperstimulation can cause chronic muscle tension, pain suppression, altered sensory perception, and affects how the nervous system communicates within itself (body-to-brain and back nerve impulse communication).

Any of these chronic changes can cause chronic extremity numbness.

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

Many people experience numb extremities due to hyperstimulation.

Chronic extremity numbness is a common indication of hyperstimulation.

3. Other Factors

Other factors can cause anxiety-like symptoms, aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, and contribute to hyperstimulation and its symptoms, including:

Medication

Side effects of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can mimic, cause, and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you are unsure if your medication is playing a role in your symptoms, including having numb extremities.

Visit our Medication article for more information.

Recreational Drugs

Many recreational drugs can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Many recreational drugs can also profoundly affect the nervous system, which can aggravate existing anxiety symptoms since anxiety also affects the nervous system.

Visit our Recreational Drugs article for more information.

Stimulants

Stimulants bring about their stimulating effect by causing the secretion of stress hormones and other chemicals into the bloodstream, stimulating the body.

Increasing the body’s stimulation can cause and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Stimulants article for more information.

Sleep Deprivation

Going without adequate sleep can affect the body in many ways, such as:

  • Prevents the body from sufficiently refreshing itself
  • Stresses the nervous system
  • Impairs brain function
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Increases blood sugar
  • Increases moodiness
  • Increases cortisol secretion to compensate for feeling tired (cortisol is a powerful stress hormone)

These effects can cause and aggravate anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Sleep Deprivation article for more information.

Fatigue

Fatigue can cause many anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as difficulty thinking, foggy head, lightheadedness, dizziness, unsteadiness, pain, heart palpitations, trembling, memory loss, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and feeling like you have numb extremities, to name a few.

Visit our Fatigue article for more information

Hyper and Hypoventilation

Over breathing (hyperventilation) and under breathing (hypoventilation) can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Due to how hyper and hypoventilation affect the body’s CO2 levels, both are common causes of numbness and tingling, including in the extremities. This is especially true if you hold your breath when anxious.

Visit our Hyper And Hypoventilation article for more information.

Low Blood Sugar

Even if blood sugar is low within the normal range, it can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Low Blood Sugar article for more information.

Nutritional Deficiency

Nutritional deficiencies, such as low vitamin B and D, to name two, can cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Nutritional Deficiency article for more information.

Dehydration

Dehydration can also cause anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, such as concentration problems, lightheadedness, dizziness, fatigue, headache, involuntary panic attacks, muscle twitching, heart palpitations, and numb extremities.

Visit our Dehydration article for more information.

Hormone Changes

Hormones affect the body in many ways and can affect each other. A change in hormones can cause many anxiety-like symptoms and aggravate existing anxiety symptoms.

Visit our Hormone Changes article for more information.

Pain

Pain stresses the body. As such, pain, especially chronic pain, can stress the body sufficiently to cause hyperstimulation and aggravate pre-existing hyperstimulation.

If you are anxious, hyperstimulated, and symptomatic, pain, especially chronic pain, can aggravate all of them.

Visit our Pain article for more information.

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Treatment: How To Get Rid Of Numb Extremities

When anxiety-caused numb extremities is caused or aggravated by other factors, addressing those factors can reduce and eliminate this symptom.

When this anxiety symptom is caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down will end the stress response and its changes. As the body recovers from the active stress response, 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. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When this anxiety symptom is caused by stress, reducing stress and giving your body time to destress can also reduce and eliminate episodes of numb extremities.

When this symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), reducing and eliminating hyperstimulation will reduce and eliminate hyperstimulation-caused symptoms, including this one.

As your body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops exhibiting involuntary stress-caused symptoms, including feeling like you have numb extremities.

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

However, eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think. It’s common for hyperstimulation symptoms to linger as long as the body is hyperstimulated.

But as with all symptoms of hyperstimulation, this symptom will subside when the body’s stress is returned to a normal level and the body has sufficient time to recover and stabilize.

Because this symptom is merely a symptom of hyperstimulation (chronic stress), it’s harmless and needn’t be a cause for concern. You’ll always be able to use your extremities even though they might feel numb at times.

Lingering anxiety symptoms are an indication that:

  • You are continuing to trigger stress responses (from stressful circumstances or from anxious behavior motivated by unidentified and unresolved underlying factors).
  • The body’s stress level hasn’t been sufficiently reduced.
  • The body hasn’t completed its recovery work.

Lingering anxiety symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN’T an indication of a more serious medical problem.

Anxiety symptoms will subside when we contain anxious behavior, the stress response ends, and hyperstimulation has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover and stabilize.

Since worrying, fretting, and becoming emotionally upset about anxiety symptoms stress the body, these behaviors aren’t helpful to recovery and symptom elimination.

Passively accepting your symptoms in the short-term — allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them — while faithfully practicing your recovery strategies will bring about 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 and its effects. Despite the initial lack of apparent progress, you have to persevere with your recovery efforts and remain patient as the body recovers.

You also have to do your recovery work FIRST before the body can recover. It’s the cumulative effects of your recovery work that produces results down the road. And, the body’s stimulation has to diminish FIRST before symptoms can subside.

Nevertheless, faithfully practicing your recovery strategies, passively accepting your symptoms, containing your anxious behavior, and being patient will bring results in time.

When you do the right work, the body has no choice but to recover.

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Short-term strategies:

Even though eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate chronic anxiety symptoms, including this one, some people have found the following strategies helpful.

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.

Reduce stress – Since stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is a common cause of numb extremities, reducing stress can reduce episodes of this symptom.

Any stress reduction strategy can help improve this symptom. Visit our article “60 Ways To Reduce Stress And Anxiety” for natural stress reduction strategies.

Regular good sleep – Regular good sleep can reduce stress, cortisol, and the body’s overall level of stimulation. Their reduction can reduce and eliminate anxiety symptoms, including this one.

Regular deep relaxation – Deep relaxation can also reduce the body’s overall level of stimulation and stress, leading to a reduction in anxiety symptoms, including this one.

Contain your anxiousness – Since anxiety activates the stress response, which causes anxiety and hyperstimulation symptoms, containing your anxiousness about your symptoms can help reduce and eliminate them.

The more successful you are in containing your anxiousness, the more opportunity your body has to reduce stress and stimulation.

We explain containment in chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area, if you are looking for more information about it and how to implement it.

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Therapy

Therapy is the most effective way to eliminate anxiety symptoms since unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause anxiety and stress issues are the number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist. [5][6][7]

Dealing with your anxiety issues (Level Two recovery) is the most important work overall if you desire lasting success.

If you have difficulty containing, becoming unafraid of your symptoms, becoming unafraid of the feelings of anxiety, eliminating your symptoms, overcoming your anxiety issues, or have what seems like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.

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

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the best way to attain Level Two recovery success. In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.

Prevalence

How common is this symptom? In an online poll we conducted, about 69 percent respondents said they experienced numb extremities due to their anxiety issues. As you can see, this is a common symptom of anxiety.

FAQ

Can anxiety cause numb extremities?

Yes, anxiety activates the stress response, which causes many body-wide changes, including muscle tension, nervous system stimulation, and redirected blood flow. These changes can cause many anxiety symptoms, including a numb feeling in the extremities. Many anxious and stressed people experience this symptom.

Can numb extremities cause anxiety?

If you are worried about this anxiety symptom, yes, that concern can cause anxiety since worry is a behavior that creates anxiety. Containing that worry can eliminate that anxiety, which can reduce episodes of all anxiety symptoms, including this one.

Is numb extremities dangerous?

Anxiety-caused numb extremities is not dangerous. It’s merely a symptom of anxiety and not an indication of a serious medical problem.

However, it’s important to discuss this symptom with your doctor to ensure it is solely anxiety-related. It’s best to be certain than hope it’s only anxiety-related. Having this symptom cleared medically can alleviate any concerns you might have.

Can an anxiety attack cause numb extremities?

Yes! Anxiety activates the stress response, causing immediate body-wide changes. The stronger the anxiety, the stronger the stress response, and the stronger the changes. Anxiety attacks are a common cause of sudden extremity numbness.

Can extremity numbness cause an anxiety or panic attack?

It can if you are really worried about this symptom. Worry is a behavior that creates anxiety, and high-degree anxiety can cause anxiety and panic attacks. Therefore, being very concerned about this symptom can trigger anxiety and panic attacks, which can cause and aggravate this symptom.

Visit our “Numbness and Tingling Anxiety Symptom” article for more information about this overall common anxiety symptom.

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 numb extremities anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response" - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

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. 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.

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

7. 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.