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Muscle weakness anxiety symptoms

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

What anxiety muscle weakness symptoms feel like:

A muscle or group of muscles feel unusually weak, rubbery, odd, wobbly, numb, shaky, tired, or like they won’t work right.

Some people describe this symptom as that they don’t have confidence in their muscles because they don’t feel as strong as they used to. Other descriptions include weak hands, feet, legs, arms, neck, back, head, and face muscles. They can feel so weak that you become concerned you have a serious medical problem, such as MS, ALS, or Parkinson’s Disease.

Any muscle or muscle group can be affected. It may involve one particular muscle or group of muscles, or may randomly shift from one muscle or group of muscles to another. It may also include several different muscles or groups of muscles at the same time.

This symptom can appear for a few brief moments then disappear, may last for minutes or hours, or may persist indefinitely. It also may occur and/or may be more noticeable and bothersome when trying to relax, go to sleep, when asleep, or resume when waking up. It can also be more problematic when you are trying to use your muscles, such as when walking or lifting.

The degree and intensity of this symptom will vary from person to person. For example, one or a group of muscles may be only slightly noticeable for one person, while it may be intensely noticeable and severely restricting for another.

This symptom can affect ANY muscle or group of muscles in the body, and/or may randomly migrate to various muscles or groups of muscle throughout the entire body. Many of those who experience stress and anxiety comment about weak muscles in the head and face, mouth, back of the head and neck, back and top of the shoulders, chest, arms, legs, hands, stomach, lower back, groin, and feet.

Some people experience great discomfort due to muscle weakness. Some people also find the weakness so restricting and debilitating that it impedes physical activity and impairs a normal lifestyle. Some people even become bedridden because they feel so weak.

This symptom can be experienced in one, many, or all of your muscle and muscle groups.

This symptom may occur as a response to feeling anxious or stressed, or may occur for no apparent reason.

This symptom can be mildly noticeable, moderately bothersome, or greatly problematic. It can occur rarely, frequently, or persistently, and may change from day to day and even moment to moment.

All combinations and variations of the above are common.

NOTE: It is common to experience weakness with pain, and vice versa. If you are experiencing weakness without pain, or pain without weakness, this is also common and not unusual.

Why anxiety can cause muscle weakness

Behaving in an apprehensive manner activates the stress response. The stress response secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body 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.

When the stress response is active, it causes the body’s muscles to tighten. It also causes the body to shunt blood to the muscles in an attempt to prepare the body for immediate action. This combination can cause muscles to feel weak…even though they aren’t actually weak. Many people experience this feeling when anxious or stressed. Feeling ‘weak in the knees’ when nervous is a common description of this symptom.

While this symptom may feel odd, it’s actually quite normal for the body when it is experiencing an active stress response.

Because the stress response stresses the body, being overly anxious or stressed will cause frequent stress responses, which can overly stress the body. When the body becomes overly stressed, it can exhibit symptoms of stress, such as this symptom. For example, persistent muscle tension due to too frequent stress responses can cause muscles to become strained and fatigued. Fatigued muscles can feel weak, which is a common cause of this symptom.

So there are good reasons for anxious and stressed people to experience muscle weakness. If you are experiencing this symptom, you aren’t alone.

How to eliminate muscle weakness

When this symptoms is caused by an active stress response, we simply need to wait until the stress response ends and the body has sufficient time to calm down. Once the body has recovered from the active stress response and its changes, this symptom should subside. Therefore, it needn’t be a cause for concern.

When this symptom is caused by an overly stressed body, reducing your body’s stress and giving it time to recover should also eliminate this symptom. But you have to keep in mind that an overly stressed body can take a long time to recover. Reducing the body’s stress overall generally doesn’t happen in a few days. You may need to reduce your body’s stress for a few weeks or more before you see this symptom subside.

Nevertheless, when your body has completely recovered from elevated stress, it will stop producing symptoms, including this one.

Regular exercise, light weight training, getting fresh air, relaxed breathing, and eating a healthy and balanced diet can also help alleviate this symptom. Worrying about it is not helpful, since worry stresses the body.

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.

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Additional Resources:

You can return to our symptoms of anxiety list here.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/counseling/therapy for problematic anxiety and its sensations and symptoms, including muscle weakness.