Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives. Arriving late for a job interview, public speaking, meeting someone new, and many other common life activities can cause you to feel anxious. Anxiety isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it can help you to stay focused, alert, and make quick decisions. However, anxiety that happens too frequently or severely can cause physical symptoms, such as muscle twitches.
Muscle twitches can occur when an anxiety disorder¹ or other underlying condition causes your muscles to contract involuntarily. Twitches can occur anywhere in your body. It is important to know that muscle twitches are a common symptom of anxiety and they can be prevented and managed.
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Muscle twitching feels like a sharp, throbbing pain when muscles tense and spasm (contract) or make any other uncontrollable movement. These are common symptoms of anxiety.
Muscle twitches can be slow, sporadic, intermittent, or involve muscle tremors. They can last for seconds or even hours and can affect any part of the body, such as the arms, legs, facial muscles, abdominal muscles, and neck. The twitches can affect multiple muscle groups in one episode, starting with one, then shifting to another. The twitches may come and go at any time, and trying to relax does not necessarily stop you from experiencing them.
Some healthcare professionals say that anxiety induces the release of stress hormones in the body, which in turn causes involuntary muscle movements, such as twitches.² Your brain reacts to the stress by triggering either a fight, flight, or freeze response. These stress responses result in physical changes as your body prepares for action. These changes include an increase in blood sugar, blood pressure, or electrical activity in the nervous system, and muscle tightening. Any of these symptoms, whether alone or in combination with one another, can cause muscle twitching.
Another theory suggested by healthcare professionals is that muscle twitching happens when the nervous system becomes hyperstimulated by stress responses produced in the brain. Frequent stress responses cause your muscles to keep moving, even when you're resting. This is called incomplete stress recovery, where your body is constantly responding to stressors, even when they are not present.
There is a range of other factors that can cause muscle twitches, including:
Lack of sleep
Sleep deprivation can cause involuntary muscle movements. Lack of sleep results in excess cortisol production in the body, which increases the likelihood of muscle spasms. The condition is worsened when your body is already hyperstimulated.
Caffeine and other stimulants keep your body in a hyperstimulated state that makes you more susceptible to muscle spasms.
High levels of anxiety may lead to dehydration.³ Since your body is nearly 75% water, when you are dehydrated, your body is less able to transport nutrients to your muscles, which can make the twitching worse.
Hormones affect your body in all sorts of ways. For example, if you have low levels of a certain hormone, your brain may interpret the deficiency as stress which can result in involuntary muscle spasms.
Low blood sugar
Low blood sugar is another common cause of muscle twitching. The food you consume is converted into sugars which your cells use to produce energy for your muscles. Anxiety can lead to malnutrition, which decreases your blood sugar and can aggravate muscle twitching.⁴
Anxiety-induced muscle twitches can occur by themselves or alongside other symptoms of anxiety. To determine whether the muscle twitches you are experiencing are caused by anxiety, you should consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions to determine your anxiety and stress levels, dietary habits, and sleeping patterns. You'll also go through some tests to determine possible contributing factors, like your blood sugar levels or oxygen saturation. All of these tests will help your doctor to narrow down the most likely cause of your muscle twitching.
Anxiety is a common cause of muscle twitches, but it may also be caused by another underlying condition, so it is important to receive the correct diagnosis.
Once the cause of your muscle twitching has been diagnosed, your doctor will discuss with you the available prevention and treatment methods.
While muscle twitching can be harmless, if you are overly stressed, there are steps you can take to minimize anxiety and reduce the spasms, including:
Accepting your anxiety
The first step in dealing with anxiety-induced muscle twitching is to acknowledge that you feel anxious. Worrying about the twitching can make it worse by aggravating your anxiety. Instead, by accepting the anxiety, you will be able to think more clearly and find solutions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, is commonly recommended to help manage stress and treat anxiety disorders.
Antidepressants and medication
Your doctor may prescribe you medication to treat your anxiety.
Starting regular meditation practice may help you to deal with stressful situations to feel calmer and less anxious.
You can implement useful strategies to lower your stress and anxiety levels and reduce muscle twitching.
Anxiety can come with a range of physical symptoms, including muscle twitches. Muscle twitches are caused when your brain interprets anxiety as stress and sends signals to your body that trigger muscle spasms. These spasms can occur in different muscle groups at any time. Learning how to effectively manage stress and anxiety is the best way to prevent and manage anxiety-induced muscle twitching. If you are concerned about muscle twitches, make sure to consult your healthcare professional.
Anxiety disorders | National Alliance on Mental Illness
Muscle twitching | MedlinePlus
Water, depression, and anxiety | Solara Mental Health