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Weak shaky legs, jelly legs, rubber legs, leg weakness, heaviness, and tiredness anxiety symptom

Jim Folk author
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: July 16, 2019


weak legs anxiety symptoms

Having weak legs is a common symptom and sign of anxiety disorder.

Common weak legs anxiety symptoms descriptions include:

  • Your legs feel so weak that you think they won't be able to support you.
  • Sometimes your legs feel so weak that you are concerned that you might not be able to walk or stand.
  • Your legs can also feel jelly-like, rubbery-feeling, and that you have to force yourself to walk.
  • Your legs can also feel like they are numb and you have a hard time feeling them.
  • Your legs feel unusually tired and heavy.
  • It also might feel like your legs or knees are too stiff to move, or that your legs won’t move as you would like them to.
  • Your legs feel so weak and stiff that you have to force them to move just so you can walk.
  • It can also feel like your legs are so weak and “rubbery” feeling that they are about to give out.
  • It can also feel like your legs are so weak and unsteady that you can’t trust them to hold you up.
  • We often hear anxious people say, “My legs feel so weak, stiff, and unsteady that I fear I’m going to collapse or fall over.”
  • Others have said that they’ve “lost confidence” in their legs and ability to walk normally because of the weakness and stiffness in their legs.
  • Yet, others have described this symptom as weak legs, weak shaky legs from anxiety, weak shaky legs fibromyalgia, weak legs shaky hands, off-balance feeling and weak legs, weak rubber legs, and weak arms and legs.

The weak legs anxiety symptom can affect one leg only, can shift and affect the other leg, can migrate back and forth between legs, or affect both legs at the same time.

This weak legs symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you have weak legs once in a while and not that often, have them off and on, or have them all the time.

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

Weak legs can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and chronic stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

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

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

What causes weak legs anxiety symptoms?

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.

Anxiety can cause this symptom in two primary ways:

1. Effects of the stress response

The moment we believe we could be in danger, the body secretes 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 or flee. This survival reaction is the reason why the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).[1][2][3][4]

These body-wide changes can cause sensations. Having weak legs is commonly associated with an active stress response. Many people notice a “weak in the knees” feeling when they are nervous or afraid.

The intensity and frequency of the anxiety weak legs symptoms are often proportional to the degree of nervousness, anxiety, and fear. This is one of the reasons why weak legs are common symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.

2. The effects of hyperstimulation (chronic stress)

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 or dramatically, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can cause it to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness. We call this state “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants (also often referred to as "hyperarousal").[5][6][7] Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. "Weak legs" is a common indication of hyperstimulation (chronic stress).

Hyperstimulation (chronic stress) can affect the body in many ways, including causing muscle fatigue,[8] nervous system dysregulation,[9] and the misreporting of sensory information.[10][11]

The above combination of factors can cause many odd and bizarre sensory and muscle movement behaviors, sensations, and feelings, including feeling like your legs are unusually weak, heavy, tired, and stiff to move.

Unfortunately, many anxious people worry about their health. When this symptom occurs, they worry that their weak legs might be caused by a serious disease, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Muscular Sclerosis (MS), Muscular dystrophy (MD), Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), stroke, or some other serious neurological disorder. This worry fuels stress, which can exacerbate weakness, unsteadiness, and stiffness in the legs.

Fortunately, stress-caused weak legs are not caused by a serious disease, and therefore, needn’t be a cause for concern. They are merely indications of anxiousness and chronic stress (hyperstimulation).

How to get rid of weak legs anxiety symptoms?

1. Stop the active stress response

When this anxiety symptom is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the active stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, this anxiety symptom will subside. Keep in mind that 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.

2. Eliminate hyperstimulation

When this anxiety symptom is caused by hyperstimulation (chronic stress), such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it may take much longer for the body to calm down and recover, and to the point where this anxiety symptom subsides.

Nevertheless, when the body has recovered from the effects of chronic stress, this anxiety symptom will subside. So again, this anxiety symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about your anxiety symptoms. Yes, weak, jelly-like, heavy, tired, and stiff legs anxiety symptoms can be bothersome, but again, when your body has recovered from the stress response or the effects of chronic stress (hyperstimulation), this symptom will subside.

If you are having difficulty containing your worrying, you may want to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including what seems like uncontrollable worry.

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety, anxiety symptoms, why anxiety symptoms can persist long after we think they should, 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 anxiety symptom weak legs is more fully explained in the Symptoms section (chapter 9) in the Recovery Support area.

Additional comments

Yes, having weak legs, legs that don’t seem to feel or move normally, legs that feel overly tired, heavy, and stiff can make walking more challenging. In spite of the difficulty, you don’t have to worry about these types of symptoms. They are merely symptoms of stress, which will subside when you’ve sufficiently reduced your body’s stress.

Since worry stresses the body, worrying about this symptom will only cause it to persist. You want to contain your worry so that your body can recover. As it recovers, it eliminates stress-caused symptoms, including having weak, shaky, jelly-like, rubbery, heavy, tired, and stiff legs.

Again, if you are having trouble containing your worry, it would be beneficial to connect with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists to help you learn this important skill.

Weak legs anxiety symptoms FAQs

Why do my legs feel weak when I'm nervous?

When we’re nervous, the body activates the fight or flight response, which causes a number of body-wide changes that give the body an emergency boost when in danger. This boost can affect the muscles in the legs, making them feel weak. Many people notice a “weak in the knees” feeling when they are nervous, anxious, or afraid.

Why do my legs feel weak and tired?

There are two main reasons why your legs feel weak and tired.

  1. Nervousness, anxiety, and being afraid can cause your legs to feel weak and tired. For more information, read the previous sections of this web page.
  2. Stress can also make your legs feel weak and tired. Especially chronic stress because of how chronic stress can affect the muscles in the legs. For more information, read the previous sections of this web page.

Since there are medical reasons for weak and tired feeling legs, it’s best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

Can stress cause heavy legs?

Yes, stress can cause a heavy legs feeling. In fact, stress and chronic stress often cause heavy, tired, jelly-like, rubbery, weak, and stiff legs feelings because of how stress affects the body’s muscles, including those in the legs. For more information, read the previous sections of this web page.

Why do my legs feel heavy and tired?

There are two main reasons why your legs feel heavy and tired.

  1. Nervousness, anxiety, and being afraid can cause your legs to feel heavy and tired. For more information, read the previous sections of this web page.
  2. Stress can also make your legs feel heavy and tired. Especially chronic stress because of how chronic stress can affect the muscles in the legs. For more information, read the previous sections of this web page.

Since there are medical reasons for heavy and tired feeling legs, it’s best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.


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.


REFERENCES:

1. Selye H. Endocrine reactions during stress. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 1956;35:182–193. [PubMed]

2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.

3. "The Physiology of Stress: Cortisol and the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis." DUJS Online. N.p., 03 Feb. 2011. Web. 19 May 2016.

4. "Stress." University of Maryland Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.

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

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. 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.

8. Karatzaferi, Christina, et al. "Muscle fatigue and muscle weakness: what we know and what we wish we did." Frontiers in Physiology, 30 May 2013.

9. Z, Fatahi, et al. "Effect of acute and subchronic stress on electrical activity of basolateral amygdala neurons in conditioned place preference paradigm: An electrophysiological study." Behavioral Brain Research, 29 Sept. 2017.

10. 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.

11. Laine, Mikaela A, et al. “Brain Activation Induced by Chronic Psychosocial Stress in Mice.Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2017.