When Sweating or Clamminess is an Anxiety Symptom

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Sweating can be a is a sign of anxiety but this isn't always the case. In some instances it is perfectly normal and sometimes even desirable to sweat. At other times excessive perspiration becomes an embarrassment and that too can increase anxiety levels.

woman sweating while exercising to help the body cool down

Why does the body sweat?

When the body needs to lose heat for some reason it sweats. It's our own personal air conditioning system. Normally, the more vigorous the exercise, the hotter we get, and the more we sweat.

Just as a car engine gets hot when it works harder, so does a human body.

Perspiring is a normally accepted part of taking physical exercise. Many people wouldn't feel they'd done enough of a workout if they hadn't worked up a sweat!

Why do people sweat when they're anxious?

When the survival instinct triggers the fight or flight response some of the body’s systems start to work harder just as they would if you were undertaking physical exercise. Your body is getting fired up so it can leap into action and save you from the danger that your brain has sensed is there.

The most noticeable sign that this is happening is the increased speed of the heartbeat – sometimes regarded as palpitations in the context of anxiety. It is not surprising, therefore, that when anxiety, or negative arousal builds, that perspiration happens too. It is the body’s way of cooling its own engine to prevent it from overheating.

As an anxiety symptom this one is not often mentioned by those who suffer with panic or anxiety attacks. This isn't because they don’t get this symptom. It is more often because at the time they are focusing on scarier symptoms such as their palpitations and the possibility of having a heart attack or of fainting and making a spectacle of themselves.

When anxiety of some sort is the cause of the sweat, things will get worse if the person then starts to feel self conscious about it. As with many anxiety symptoms, once the person notices they have the symptom and struggle to get rid of it, that symptom then increases the anxiety levels too. Another vicious circle is created.

What is clamminess?

Feeling clammy is more usually noted as a problem by those who have one of the more constant anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder, or a generalized or acute anxiety state.

Clamminess is generally regarded as a feeling of dampness which is not accompanied by heat either from exercising or a hot environment. It's used to describe perspiration when the person hasn't been doing anything strenuous.

What to do about feeling clammy or sweating

Please note that what might be regarded as inappropriate perspiration i.e. when it doesn't occur as a result of exercise or excessive heat, can be due to various physical causes and you must always get checked out by your doctor before assuming that it is due to anxiety. 

The more you worry about the excessive sweat and the fact that people may notice, the worse it will get.

The easiest temporary way of coping is by taking yourself away from the situation e.g. by going outside or going to the bathroom/toilet. (I used to do the latter when I felt panicky but one day it backfired - read about what happened here)

Another coping technique might be to carry something cold that you can wipe across your forehead. go and splash cold water on your face, etc. Also do your best to think about something other than how you're feeling.

None of the above suggestions will be easy to carry out as an emergency measure nor necessarily very effective. The only real solution to the problem is by learning to understand and then unlearn your inappropriate anxiety responses. This will take time and patience but is perfectly doable. All that's needed is motivation and instructions to follow such as those described in the Feelgood Way.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety

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  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Anxiety Symptoms
  3. Sweating