If you suffer from nervous sweats you will tend to break into a seemingly uncontrollable hot or cold sweat. You might also experience hot or cold flashes – brief moments of feeling unusually hot or cold that make you sweat. This symptom can occur because of physical activity, an episode of anxiety, or for no apparent reason.
It seems no matter what you do you can’t stop your sweating or the episodes of sweating from starting. Your sweating can affect just one part of the body, such as your forehead and/or armpits, many parts of the body in combination, your entire body, or randomly shift throughout.
Excessive sweating can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may experiencing profuse sweating once and a while and not that often, experience it off and on, or experience it all the time.
Excessive sweating may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
Excessive sweating 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.
Excessive sweating 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.
Excessive sweating can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
Why does anxiety cause excessive sweating?
There are four main reasons why anxiety can cause excessive sweating:
1. Anxiety (behaving anxiously) activates the stress response, which causes the body to increase perspiration:
Stress hormones ready the body for immediate action by changing how the body functions when danger is perceived. Part of this change includes increasing perspiration so the body’s water can be eliminated through the skin rather than through the kidneys – so that you don’t have to stop to urinate in the midst of defending yourself from or escaping harm. Another part of the stress response’s actions cause an increase in respiration and heart rate to shunt blood to the parts more necessary for emergency action and away from those that aren’t.
This increased respiration and shunting action causes the body’s temperature to increase. A second reason for increased perspiration is to help cool the body.
When we’re anxious, we might experience an increase in perspiration because of the stress response changes that take place. Since the sensations and symptoms of a stress response are directly proportional to the degree of anxiety, we can experience a wide range of sensations and symptoms associated with the different degrees. For example, someone who is extremely anxious may experience dramatic sensations and symptoms, whereas someone who is only slightly anxious might experience them mildly.
So being anxious can cause an increase in perspiration that can range from scant to profuse, depending upon the degree of anxiety.
NOTE: Many people aren’t aware that anxiety can occur in varying degrees, and aren’t aware of how these varying degrees can affect the body.
For example, most people recognize when they are really anxious, such as being terrified. But many don’t recognize that being nervous is also a degree of anxiety, but at a lower intensity. Every time we behave apprehensively, the body produces a stress response and its associated physiological, psychological, and emotional changes, and one that is directly proportional to the degree of anxiousness.
Becoming aware of your anxiousness, the varying degrees of your anxiousness, and how they affect your body can bring context to your symptoms, which can help you to contain your fears about them, including excessive sweating.
In the midst of high degree anxiety, many of us can accept our strong sensations and symptoms as a consequence of being highly anxious. Since we understand the correlation between high degree anxiety and a strong reaction, we typically aren’t afraid of our strong sensations and symptoms because we know why they are occurring. But when sensations and symptoms occur for no apparent reason, many of us become concerned because we think something more serious is going on, which leads us to point 2.
2. Stress-response hyperstimulation (an overly stressed body) can cause erratic sensations and symptoms, including involuntary episodes of sweating.
When the body becomes overly stressed, it can act erratically and more involuntarily than normal, which can cause involuntary sensations and symptoms of stress to occur anytime and for no apparent reason. Just as we can experience sweating when anxious, we also can experience erratic episodes of sweating when the body is overly stressed (stress-response hyperstimulated).
As long as the body is overly stressed, it can involuntarily produce the sensations and symptoms of stress whenever and however it wants, including excessive sweating.
3. Stress-response hyperstimulation can intensify our perception of, and reaction to, danger.
Stress hormones are supposed to make us more aware of danger AND more reactive to it. As stress-response hyperstimulation increases, so can our sense of danger increase AND so can the body’s reaction to it, including causing an increase in the sensations and symptoms of the stress response.
If you have previously experienced a hot or cold sweat when you were anxious, you may now experience profuse sweating as a result of your body’s hyperstimulated state.
4. Reacting to, or being anxious about, your excessive sweating can cause additional stress responses, which can create and/or aggravate stress caused symptoms, including excessive sweating.
Containing your anxiousness and keeping yourself calm can prevent unnecessary stress responses and their effects. We explain ‘containing’ and the ‘fear cycle’ in the Recovery Support area of our website.
How to get rid of excessive sweating anxiety symptoms?
While excessive sweating may be annoying (and embarrassing for some people), it isn’t harmful in and of itself. It’s most often just a reaction to being anxious, an indication of an overly stressed body (stress-response hyperstimulation), or both.
When excessive sweating is caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the stress response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, excessive sweating should subside and you should return to your normal self. 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.
When excessive sweating is caused by an overly stressed body, it may take a lot more time for the body to recover from its overly stressed state and to the point where this symptom is eliminated.
Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered and returned to a healthy level of stress, excessive sweating completely subsides. Therefore, excessive sweating 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 sweating. Sure, excessive sweating can be and annoying and even uncomfortable. But again, when your body has recovered from the stress response and/or sustained stress, excessive sweating completely disappears.
As part of an overall recovery strategy, however, be sure to include working on your underlying factors that cause anxiety, since many of the reasons we are anxious (including self-consciousness) are related to unresolved underlying factors of anxiety. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach/therapist can help you address the underlying factors at the root of your problematic anxiety. Working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach/therapist is the most effective way to overcome problematic anxiety.
While your goal should be to address this symptom for the long-term, there are, however, a few things you can do to reduce excessive sweating in the meantime:
Relaxed breathing – can help calm down the body and nervous system, which can make them less reactive and help bring an end to an active stress response. Relaxed breathing also helps reduce stress. The less stressed your body is, the less likely it will produce involuntary symptoms, such as episodes of excessive sweating.
Contain your anxious thinking – can reduce the frequency and degree of stress responses, which can also calm down an overly reactive body and nervous system. For more information about containing apprehensive behavior, see Chapter 6 in the Recovery Support area of our website.
Visualize being calm and relaxed – calming yourself down can keep your body and nervous system from over reacting, and sometimes from misbehaving due to stress-response hyperstimulation.
Passive acceptance – passively accepting this symptom in the short term reduces stress, and reducing stress helps the nervous system to calm down and become less reactive. The less reactive you are to excessive sweating, the better off you’ll be.
Reduce your body’s stress – reducing the body’s stress is an important part of overcoming symptoms of stress-response hyperstimulation. Again, the less stressed your body becomes, the less likely it will produce involuntary symptoms of stress, including excessive sweating.
Get regular good sleep – regular good sleep can play an important role in keeping the body calm, relaxed, and unstressed. All helpful when dealing with stress-caused symptoms, such as excessive sweating.
Avoid stimulants – since stimulants can irritate the nervous system, eliminating them can help the nervous system be calmer, thus less reactive.
Wear less restrictive clothing – less restrictive clothing can help cool the body and hide wetness from excessive sweating.
Wear clothes that breathe – can help cool the body, which can prevent episodes of excessive sweating.
Be sure to keep your body hydrated – this can help prevent the body from becoming dehydrated due to many episodes of excessive sweating.
Sweating, including excessive sweating, isn’t harmful. In fact, sweating is actually healthy for the body, as it uses perspiration as a means to expel toxins. The only perceived downside of sweating is what you think people will think of you if they notice you sweating profusely. But many people sweat and for many reasons. Profuse sweating needn’t be a cause for embarrassment or concern.