“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Cold Hands And Feet Anxiety Symptoms

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: September 22, 2019


cold hands and feet anxiety symptoms

Cold hands and feet are commonly associated with symptoms of anxiety disorder, including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, 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 or Anxiety Disorder Test. The higher the rating, the more likely it could be contributing to your anxiety symptoms, including chest tightness.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and having cold hands and feet.

Cold hands and feet anxiety symptoms common descriptions:

  • Your hands and feet feel cold even though there isn’t a real reason for them to feel cold, such as cold temperature.
  • Your hands and feet feel cold even though you have warm socks on, gloves on, or have them wrapped in a blanket to insulate them from the cold.
  • Your hands or feet (or both) feel unusually cold and for no apparent reason.
  • Your hands or feet (or both) feel unusually cold even though you are in a warm environment.
  • No matter what you do you can’t seem to warm your hands or feet.
  • Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t seem to warm up your cold hands and feet even with a heating blanket or warming bag.

This symptom can affect just the hands or feet, can shift and affect the hands first and then the feet or vice versa, can switch back and forth, or affect both at the same time.

Cold hands and feet can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you have cold hands or feet (or both) once in a while and not that often, have them off and on, or have them all the time.

Having cold hands and feet can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by themselves.

This anxiety symptom 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.

This anxiety 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 from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

What causes cold hands and feet?

Medical Advisory

We recommend all new, changing, persistent, and returning anxiety symptoms be discussed with your doctor as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including this anxiety symptom. If your doctor concludes your symptoms are solely anxiety-related, you can be confident there isn't a medical cause. Generally, doctors can easily determine the difference between anxiety symptoms and those caused by a medical condition.

Doctors aren't infallible, however. If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, you can seek a second or more opinions. But if all opinions agree, you can be assured anxiety is the cause of this symptom.

Active Stress Response

When this symptom is caused by anxiety, behaving in an apprehensive manner, which creates anxiety, causes the body to activate the stress response. The stress response causes the body to secrete stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—to either fight with or flee from it—which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response or the emergency response.[1][2]

A part of the stress response changes include shunting blood away from less important body functions (digestion, non-vital organs) when in danger to those that are (brain, muscles. etc.). This shunting action can make our hands and feet feel cold when we're anxious.

Stress-Response Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about. When stress responses occur too frequently, however, the body doesn't completely recover. This can result in the body remaining in a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call "stress-response hyperstimulation" since stress hormones are stimulants.[3][4] This state is also often referred to as "hyperarousal."

Hyperstimulation can cause the body to exhibit a wide range of sensations and symptoms similar to those of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn't been activated. Experiencing chronic cold hands and feet are examples of how the body can react when hyperstimulated.

We explain this in much more detail in the Recovery Support area of our website.

Is having cold hands and feet harmful?

No! Having cold hands and feet is common when a person is anxious. Most people experience this symptom when anxious or stressed.

How to eliminate anxiety cold hands and feet?

1. Eliminate The Active Stress Response

When this symptom is caused by an active stress response, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers, your cold hands and feet should subside. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. However, this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

2. Eliminate Hyperstimulation

When your cold hands and feet are caused by hyperstimulation, it may take a lot longer for the body to recover and to the point where this symptom subsides.

Nevertheless, when the body has recovered from an active stress response or from hyperstimulation, this symptom will subside. Therefore, again, anxiety-caused cold hands and feet needn’t be a cause for concern.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your body’s stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about this symptom.

For a more detailed explanation about the stress response, anxiety sensations and symptoms, why anxiety sensations and symptoms can persist, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, see Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 18, 21, and 23 in the Recovery Support area of our website.

3. Therapy

The number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist is because of unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety. This is why dealing with your anxiety issues is the most important overall.

Since the majority of stress comes from behavior (the ways we think and act), addressing the core reasons for anxiety disorder can reduce and eliminate the unhealthy stress that often leads to hyperstimulation and symptoms, including this one.

Keep in mind that eliminating anxiety symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve overcome issues with anxiety. Anxiety symptoms are symptoms of stress. Eliminating anxiety symptoms means you’ve eliminated the unhealthy stress that is causing your symptoms. But if the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety aren’t addressed, it’s just a matter of time until the body is overly stressed and symptomatic again.

Rebounds of symptoms and a return to a struggle with anxiety are caused for this very reason: the core issues that cause problematic anxiety haven’t been successfully addressed.

To eliminate issues with anxiety and symptoms once and for all, we need to eliminate the cause of problematic anxiety – the underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety. When you eliminate the cause of the problem, you eliminate the problem and the problem's symptoms.

If you have been struggling with anxiety and symptoms, we recommend connecting with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist to help you overcome your anxiety issues. Research has shown that working with an experienced therapist is an effective treatment for anxiety disorder.[5][6]

All of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists have personally experienced anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Masters Degree and above professional training makes them a good choice when desiring to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms.

Moreover, getting therapy via teletherapy, distanced therapy, or e-therapy (telephone or online therapy) is as effective, if not more so, than in-person therapy.[7][8]

All of our recommended therapists are experienced at working with clients via distanced therapy and new technologies. We’ve found distanced therapy to be especially effective when working with anxious clients.

Research has also shown that self-help information can also be beneficial.[9][10] For a more detailed explanation about anxiety symptoms including this one, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.


The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.


Additional Resources:


Return to Anxiety Disorders Signs and Symptoms section.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including cold hands and feet.


REFERENCES:

1. Selye, H. (1956). The stress of life. New York, NY, US: McGraw-Hill.

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

3. Hannibal, Kara E., and Mark D. Bishop. “Chronic Stress, Cortisol Dysfunction, and Pain: A Psychoneuroendocrine Rationale for Stress Management in Pain Rehabilitation.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2014.

4. Justice, Nicholas J., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder-Like Induction Elevates β-Amyloid Levels, Which Directly Activates Corticotropin-Releasing Factor Neurons to Exacerbate Stress Responses.” Journal of Neuroscience, Society for Neuroscience, 11 Feb. 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. Thompson, Ryan Baird, "Psychology at a Distance: Examining the Efficacy of Online Therapy" (2016). University Honors Theses. Paper 285.

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

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

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

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