Wrinkled Pruney Skin

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated April 6, 2022

wrinkled pruney skin anxiety symptom

Wrinkled, pruney skin like you have been soaking in water for a long time is a common anxiety disorder symptom, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and others.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and having wrinkled, pruney skin.

Wrinkled (Pruney) Skin Common Symptom Descriptions

  • Your skin is wrinkled as if you’ve been in water for a long time.
  • You have “pruney” or “puckered” (wrinkled) skin.

This symptom can affect any one, many, or all of your fingers and toes.

This symptom can:

  • Occur occasionally, frequently, or persistently.
  • 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 the above combinations and variations are common.

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.

Additional Medical Advisory Information.

1. The stress response

Anxious behavior, such as worry, activates the stress response, preparing the body for emergency action.

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.

Some of these changes include:

  • Quickly converts the body’s energy reserves into “fuel” (blood sugar) to provide an instant boost of energy.
  • Stimulates the nervous system, increasing nervous system activity to be more sensitive and reactive to danger.
  • Shunts blood to parts of the body more vital to survival, such as the brain, arms, legs, and vital organs, and away from parts less vital for survival, such as the stomach, digestive system, and skin. It accomplishes this by constricting blood vessels in certain parts of the body and dilating them in others.
  • Causes muscles to tighten.

The higher the degree of the stress response, the more dramatic the changes.

Since stress responses push the body beyond its internal balance (homeostasis), stress responses stress the body. As such, anxiety stresses the body.

Stress can cause “pruney” skin as if you’ve been in the water a long time.

For instance, stress narrows the blood vessels in the skin to shunt blood to parts more important for survival. Narrowing blood vessels in the fingertips and toe tips can cause “pruney” skin.[3][4]

Furthermore, elevated blood sugar and an overly excited nervous system can cause “pruney” skin.[3][4]

Some anxious people notice “pruney” skin during an active stress response.

2. Hyperstimulation

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

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[5][6]

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

Just as an active stress response acutely stresses the body, hyperstimulation chronically stresses the body.

Since hyperstimulation can cause the body to act erratically, hyperstimulation is a common cause of chronic and erratic “pruney” skin. This is especially true because of how hyperstimulation can affect muscle tension, artery restriction, blood sugar, nervous system regulation, homeostatic regulation, and hormone changes.

Moreover, chronic stress can affect the thyroid gland, causing high or low thyroid levels. High or low thyroid levels can cause “pruney” skin.

Furthermore, chronic stress can deplete important vitamin levels, including vitamin B, especially B12. Low vitamin B12 can also cause pruney skin.

Dehydration can also cause pruney skin. Chronic stress can dehydrate the body if sufficient fluids aren’t ingested.

Many anxious and chronically stressed people get this symptom from time to time.

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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Treatment

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

When this symptom is caused by anxious behavior and active stress response, ending the stress response will end its changes. This symptom should subside as your body recovers from the active stress response.

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 symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), 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.
  • Getting regular good sleep.
  • 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 read chapter 14 for many more ways to reduce stress, many natural ways to shut off active stress responses, and many other anxiety disorder recovery strategies.

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 wrinkled (pruney) skin 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 and stabilize. 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 stress the body, 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.

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.

Eliminating hyperstimulation will bring results in time!

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Therapy

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

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.

Prevalence

In an online poll, 38 percent of respondents said they had wrinkled, pruney skin as an anxiety 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 wrinkled (pruney) skin 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. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. Sissions, Claire. "Why are my fingers pruney or wrinkled?" MedicalNewsToday, 8 aug 2018.

4. 4. "Raynaud's Disease." MedlinePlus, 24 Aug 2021.

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

6. 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.

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. 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.