When people are stressed or afraid, their muscles tense up. This is a natural response that has been protecting humans for thousands of years. If your body senses danger, it contracts your muscles so you can react quickly and either fight back or flee from the situation.
But what happens when your body perceives danger that is not there? Those same muscle contractions occur, only this time, they are not protecting you from anything. This leads to anxiety-induced muscle tension. Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, so you might notice that you feel tense during stressful conversations or after a particularly hard day. However, when that tension starts to impact your quality of life, it is a sign that your feelings of anxiety may actually be an Anxiety Disorder.
Muscle tension is just one of many symptoms that stem from Anxiety Disorders, but it can have a serious impact on your life if you do not address it. Learn more about why your muscles tense up when you are anxious and what you can do to take care of yourself.
Common Experiences With Anxiety Muscle Tension
Just as each individual experiences Anxiety Disorders and their symptoms differently, experiences with anxiety muscle tension look and feel different for everyone. The tension can manifest as stiffness or a dull ache, but it can also lead to sharp, shooting pains throughout the body. You might find that your muscles tense up for a few moments while you are anxious, but relax once the situation passes. Alternatively, your muscle tension might last for hours, leaving you feeling stiff, sore, and exhausted.
It is important to note that muscle tension can occur in any group of muscles across the body. Many people report anxiety muscle tension in the shoulders, back, chest, neck, face, and jaw. However, you can also experience stiffness, cramps, and other aches in your arms, legs, hands, feet, and even in the digestive tract. Tension can also migrate throughout the body.
Muscle Tension as a Long-Term Issue
For some people, anxiety muscle tension is a short-term experience. It happens in the moment but fades quickly afterward. But for others, this muscle tension can persist and create other physical health issues that negatively impact quality of life. Severe or frequent anxiety muscle tension can lead to chronic pain, limited mobility, and other health problems.
Furthermore, treatments that try to ease the muscle tension itself without addressing the underlying Mental Health Condition will only provide temporary relief. As your Anxiety Disorder worsens without treatment, your tension, stiffness, and muscle pain will continue to worsen.
Muscle Tension Can Cause Other Issues
Muscle tension is not the only physical symptom of anxiety and Anxiety Disorders. As time goes on, even mild tension can lead to more severe aches and pains. For example, if anxiety muscle tension is causing back pain, you might walk or sit a certain way to relieve that pain. Favoring your muscles in this way can cause muscle strain or soreness in other parts of the body.
Other symptoms that can stem from anxiety muscle tension include muscle spasms, twitching, and cramps. Additionally, aches and pains from these symptoms can keep you up at night, leading to an irregular sleep schedule that also takes a toll on your health.
The effects of anxiety muscle tension are interwoven; it is impossible to truly treat one part of the issue without addressing the anxiety at the source of the problem. Only by treating muscle tension as a physical manifestation of an Anxiety Disorder can you find lasting treatment and relief from these symptoms.
Causes of Anxiety Muscle Tension
Muscle tension is one of the body’s natural stress responses. As previously mentioned, instinctively tightening or contracting muscles is the body’s way of preparing you to deal with a dangerous situation. Anxiety muscle tension occurs when feelings of anxiety make your body think it is in danger. Intense fear or worry can trigger an instinctive stress response even if you are in a completely safe environment. Learning about the different kinds of stress responses and why they occur is the key to understanding why your muscles tense up when you are anxious.
Muscle Tension as a Stress Response
When the body experiences stress—from actual danger or from perceived danger—it creates stress hormones that trigger a set of physiological responses. This stress response prepares the body for fight or flight, and muscle tension is part of this response.
However, in the case of anxiety, there is nothing to fight or run away from. Instead of expelling the energy in your body through fighting or fleeing, your muscles simply stay contracted until you can relax again. Over time, this leads to stiffness, cramps, and soreness.
Muscle Tension From Hyperstimulation
Hyperstimulation occurs when your body experiences stress responses too frequently. Someone with an Anxiety Disorder might be triggering their body’s survival instinct—and the muscle tension that comes with it—multiple times a day. This leaves little room for the body to recover. As a result, your body might try to remain in its stressed state, ready to face an emergency at any moment. This chronic stress causes your muscles to remain tense and tight for long periods of time, which leads to long-term symptoms like chronic pain or mobility issues.
Anxiety and Pain Can Be Cyclical
Like many mental health symptoms, anxiety and muscle tension can create a harsh cycle that is hard to break out of. For example, if you do not realize that the pain you feel is a symptom of anxiety, you might worry that you have injured yourself or are experiencing some other type of health problem. Distress about your condition can exacerbate your feelings of anxiety, worsening your experience with muscle tension. The result is an uncomfortable cycle that continues to feed your symptoms without treatment. That is why it is important to address anxiety muscle tension at its source.
The Importance of Stress Management Treatment
Stress management treatment helps you clearly identify the cause of your muscle tension so you can find a lasting solution. By improving your body’s response to anxiety, you can reduce the impact stress has on you physically.
At Blair Wellness Group, we understand the ways that Anxiety Disorders can affect the body. When you work with Dr. Blair as your Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Irvine, you gain access to personal treatments that deliver lasting solutions for your Anxiety Disorder and its physical symptoms. Start your journey toward productive stress management and a healthier, brighter life when you reach out to the team at Blair Wellness Group today.