How Does Anxiety Cause Numbness and How to Deal with It

Anxiety is a complex emotional state often described as a future-oriented mood characterized by feelings of tension, apprehensive anticipation, and a plethora of physical changes. It is essentially a response mechanism that gears the body up to face potential threats, enabling individuals to confront or evade danger. However, when anxiety becomes overwhelming, it can manifest as a disorder, significantly impacting daily functioning and quality of life.

The relationship between anxiety and numbness is a complex and multifaceted one, with recent studies highlighting how these experiences are interlinked, especially within the context of mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD). Numbness is a common symptom of anxiety disorders, characterized by a reduction in the ability to experience emotions or sensations.

How Does Anxiety Cause Numbness?

Research and clinical observations indicate that anxiety is not merely a singular emotion but a multifaceted phenomenon involving cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral components. The psychological experience of anxiety involves an intricate web of cognitive and emotional responses. Individuals facing anxiety often report a heightened sense of alertness and an overwhelming fear of potential threats or danger. This state of vigilance is not just a mental construct but also translates into physical reactions, a phenomenon deeply rooted in our evolutionary biology. The body’s fight-or-flight response, while beneficial in genuinely dangerous situations, can become a source of chronic distress when triggered too frequently or inappropriately, as often seen in anxiety disorders.[1]

Physical Numbness

Neurobiologically, the experience of anxiety involves several key regions of the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. The amygdala plays a critical role in processing fear and emotional memories, while the hippocampus is involved in forming new memories and the prefrontal cortex in decision-making and moderating social behavior. When an individual perceives a situation as threatening, the amygdala signals the hypothalamus to initiate the stress response, leading to the release of adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body to respond to the threat but also have the side effect of causing physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and, in some cases, numbness or tingling sensations, particularly in the hands, feet, and face.

Research has identified anxiety sensitivity, particularly the fear of physical sensations, as a significant factor in panic attacks and panic disorder, where physical numbness is often reported. This sensitivity to the physical symptoms of anxiety can exacerbate the feeling of numbness, creating a cycle of anxiety and physical symptoms that feed into each other.[2]

Emotional Numbness

A less frequently discussed consequence of persistent anxiety is emotional numbness, wherein individuals may experience a sense of disconnection or apathy toward scenarios that would typically provoke strong emotional reactions.

This phenomenon can serve as a coping strategy, functioning as a psychological safeguard against the inundation of anxiety or stress. It operates as a type of emotional barrier, shielding the individual from experiencing acute negative emotions. Nonetheless, this numbness can also diminish the intensity of positive emotions, leading to a pervasive feeling of estrangement from one’s own emotional state.

The relationship between emotional numbing and social connectedness has also been explored, indicating that the numbness may contribute to poor interpersonal functioning and a reduced ability to form and maintain close relationships.Through addressing these symptoms with specific therapeutic interventions, there may be an opportunity to enhance social connections and outcomes related to trauma recovery.[3]

How to Deal With Anxiety and Numbness Together

Dealing with anxiety and numbness requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses both immediate and long-term strategies.

  • Psychotherapy Advancements: Engage in therapeutic practices like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which empowers individuals to identify and challenge detrimental thought patterns, thereby cultivating constructive coping mechanisms. This method focuses on the development of skills that enable individuals to manage their anxiety and emotional numbness more effectively, facilitating a path toward psychological resilience and well-being.
  • Medication: Studies suggest that the phenomenon of emotional dullness, which is commonly observed as a manifestation of major depressive disorder and anxiety, can be mitigated by adjusting the medication for individuals taking SSRIs/SNRIs suggesting a switch to other monoaminergic agents might be beneficial.[4]
  • Comprehensive Medication Assessment: Schedule consultations with healthcare professionals to meticulously evaluate the impact of current medications on one’s emotional states. This involves a thoughtful consideration of existing treatments and the potential for incorporating alternative medications that may offer improved emotional balance and mental health outcomes. The goal is to ensure that medication regimens support, rather than hinder, emotional responsiveness and overall well-being.
  • Holistic Lifestyle Enhancements: Commit to a lifestyle that includes regular physical activity, which can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety and improve mood. Embrace a balanced diet rich in nutrients that support brain health and emotional regulation. Prioritize adequate sleep as a cornerstone of mental health, and integrate mindfulness practices, such as meditation or yoga, to cultivate a state of calm and present-moment awareness. These lifestyle changes collectively contribute to a stronger foundation for mental health and resilience against anxiety and numbness.[5]
  • Enriched Social Engagement: Actively seek out and nurture relationships with supportive friends, family members, or members of support groups who understand and empathize with your experiences. This network can provide a sense of belonging, reduce feelings of isolation, and offer practical advice and emotional support. Engaging in community activities or volunteering can also expand one’s social connections and enhance feelings of self-worth and purpose, further alleviating symptoms of anxiety and emotional numbness.

Implementing these strategies requires dedication and patience, but it paves the way for significant improvements in managing anxiety and overcoming emotional numbness. By embracing a holistic and proactive approach, individuals can navigate the complexities of their emotional landscapes, fostering a journey towards healing and emotional well-being.

How Does Anxiety Cause Numbness and How To Deal With It: Final Thoughts

Anxiety-induced numbness is a manifestation that underscores the intricate connection between mind and body. Recognizing and addressing both the psychological and physiological dimensions of anxiety is crucial for effective management and relief. Continued research and a deeper understanding of this relationship will undoubtedly lead to more refined and effective strategies for managing anxiety and its many manifestations.


Amstadter, A. (2008). Emotion regulation and anxiety disorders. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22(2), 211–221.

Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2), 93–107.

Chand, S. P., & Marwaha, R. (2024). Anxiety. In StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved April 24, 2023, from

Frontiers. (2013, April 23). Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1987). Transactional theory and research on emotions and coping. European Journal of Personality, 1(3), 141–169. DOI: 10.1002/per.2410010304

Mantar, A., Yemez, B., & Alkın, T. (2011). Anxiety sensitivity and its importance in psychiatric disorders. Turk Psikiyatri Dergisi, 22(3), 187–193.

Sippel, L. M., Watkins, L. E., Pietrzak, R. H., Hoff, R., & Harpaz-Rotem, I. (2018). The unique roles of emotional numbing and arousal symptoms in relation to social connectedness among military veterans in residential treatment for PTSD. Psychiatry, 81(3), 271–282.

[1] Anxiety – National Library of Medicine

[2] Anxiety sensitivity and its importance in psychiatric disorders – National Library of Medicine

[3] The unique roles of emotional numbing and arousal symptoms in relation to social connectedness among military veterans in residential treatment for PTSD – National Library of Medicine

[4] Treatment of anxiety disorders – National Library of Medicine

[5] Emotional regulation and anxiety disorders – National Library of Medicine

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