Sweat happens, for pretty much everyone.
It may not always feel (or smell) all that pleasant, but it’s a natural response to rising body temperature. When the weather heats up, or when you exert yourself during physical activity, your body produces sweat to help you stay cool. In short, sweat serves a pretty important purpose.
Sometimes, though, you might find yourself sweating when your body doesn’t need to cool off. Sweating commonly happens as a response to fear or stress, which is why you might notice increased sweating as a physical symptom of anxiety.
Like typical sweat, anxiety sweat can appear all over your body, but you’ll usually notice it most on the:
- soles of your feet
Of course, worrying about sweating too much can also contribute to feelings of anxiety — not to mention become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you sweat a lot when facing stress, you might begin to worry about sweating in front of other people. But that very concern might lead you to break out in a sweat.
A sweaty face and palms can feel pretty uncomfortable, but anxiety sweating can also contribute to emotional distress. Not only can frequent sweating complicate your daily routine, but it can also diminish your confidence.
Keep reading to learn more about why anxiety sweating happens, plus get a few tips to manage — and prevent — it.
You have your sympathetic nervous system to thank for anxiety sweating.
If that term rings a bell, it’s because you may have come across it before, also in the context of anxiety. When you face a threat, whether real or perceived, your sympathetic nervous system prompts the fight-flight-freeze response.
Sweating is one key sign of this response. Fighting a threat, or fleeing from it, requires you to expend energy, which can raise your body temperature. But overheating would make it difficult to escape or keep fighting, so your body signals your sweat glands to produce sweat and keep you cool so that you can carry on.
Living with an anxiety disorder can mean your body and brain remain on constant alert for potential threats. As a result, you might regularly notice a full range of emotional and physical symptoms — beyond your sweat glands working overtime.
It’s also worth considering the flip side, too: Worries about extreme sweating, or other bodily responses, can easily characterize generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This condition involves extreme and consistent worry about everyday events and situations.
With GAD, you might, for example, find yourself worrying about sweating constantly, perhaps to the point where it:
- keeps you up at night
- disrupts your concentration at school or work
- makes it difficult to relax and enjoy hobbies and leisure time
To sum up: Anxiety can trigger sweating, but the knowledge that you sweat a lot can also lead to anxiety.
Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, can also happen as a symptom of social anxiety disorder. In fact, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society, up to 32 percent of people with social anxiety experience hyperhidrosis.
If you live with social anxiety, you likely feel intense stress and fear at the thought of embarrassing yourself or drawing negative feedback from others. These feelings might intensify when you have to join a group, speak in front of others, or meet new people.
Accordingly, you might go to great lengths to avoid drawing attention to yourself, but you still might worry about doing something other people can judge — like sweating a lot.
Yet since fear and stress can trigger sweat, you might quickly notice increased perspiration, along with other physical symptoms, like:
- warmth and flushing, especially around your face (blushing)
- head pain
- clamminess in your hands
- shortness of breath
Again, it’s also possible for sweating to prompt emotional distress that resembles social anxiety symptoms. If you know you sweat a lot, you might certainly feel nervous about sweating so much that others notice.
This fear could eventually prompt you to avoid social events, or any situations where people might notice you sweating.
Other anxiety disorders
In a review of 86 studies, people with panic disorder tended to sweat more when they encountered a situation that triggered feelings of fear or panic. They also tended to sweat more on a daily basis — even when not facing a stressful situation.
People with a phobia, on the other hand, tended to sweat more when they encountered the object of their phobia.
Can other mental health conditions cause sweating?
Some emerging research also suggests a link between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and increased sweating, though experts have yet to explore this potential connection in depth.
Anecdotal reports do suggest that many people notice increased sweating when taking Adderall, a medication that treats ADHD symptoms.
The thought of mentioning extreme sweating to a healthcare professional, or anyone at all, may provoke some anxiety and emotional discomfort.
This may help explain why many people living with hyperhidrosis
Excessive sweating can lead to social withdrawal, for one. If you worry about sweating during your daily activities, you might choose to cancel them and stay home instead. You might feel sad, even guilty, about avoiding them, but helpless to do anything else.
These feelings might, in turn, prompt a sense of general hopelessness, along with other symptoms of depression.
All that said, treatment can help ease anxiety sweating, so it’s worth reaching out for support.
Options for treatment include:
- Antiperspirants with aluminum salts. If your regular antiperspirant doesn’t do much to curb your sweating, try an antiperspirant that contains a higher concentration of aluminum chloride — anywhere from 10 to 20 percent. You can apply these under your arms, of course, but you can also use them on your palms and the soles of your feet. A doctor or clinician can prescribe these antiperspirants when over-the-counter options aren’t strong enough.
- Iontophoresis. This procedure delivers weak currents of electricity to your hands, feet, and underarms while you hold them underwater for up to 40 minutes. Experts believe this helps block the glands that produce sweat, but the effects are only temporary, so you may need regular sessions.
- Topical or oral anticholinergics. These medications help block certain cell signals, including those that prompt your glands to produce sweat. A healthcare professional might prescribe oral oxybutynin or topical glycopyrrolate as an off-label treatment for sweating.
- Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections. Like anticholinergics, Botox also helps prevent sweating by blocking the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which triggers sweat production. Treatment involves several injections, but the effects of Botox can last up to 2 years.
Working with a therapist to address symptoms of anxiety (or any other mental health condition) can also make a difference. Treatment for anxiety generally includes therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
If you experience anxiety because of sweating, treating the sweating will likely help ease these feelings. Still, it’s always a good idea to get support from a therapist for any persistent emotional or mental health symptoms, regardless of their direct cause.
A therapist can recommend treatment approaches to manage uncomfortable feelings around sweating. They can also offer tips for coping with distress, so you don’t feel the need to avoid social situations.
In search of quick tips to avoid getting sweaty in the first place? Here are a few ideas to consider.
Prepare with an antiperspirant
Using an antiperspirant regularly can help prevent sweating before it happens.
As noted above, it may be time to try a stronger antiperspirant if your regular brand doesn’t keep you dry. Follow the directions on the label to make sure you use it at the right time — applying it at night may yield better results.
Practice relaxation techniques
When you start to feel anxious, techniques that soothe and ground you can help calm racing worries and fears before they become overwhelming.
Not only do relaxation exercises help ease emotional distress, but they can also provide relief from physical symptoms, like sweating.
Options to try include:
Take steps to stay cool
While anxious sweating doesn’t happen because you’re warm, feeling too hot could absolutely make matters worse. What’s more, if you’re overly warm, you might worry even more about sweating, which only feeds into the anxiety sweating loop.
You might try:
- dressing in easily removable layers
- sticking close to doors and windows
- keeping a cold drink nearby
- stepping outside for some fresh air
Find a positive distraction
Fixating on the source of your anxiety — from fears about sweating to anything else — generally only serves to intensify that worry.
It might not always feel easy, or even possible, to change the course of your thoughts. Still, making the effort to focus on something that inspires peaceful or positive feelings could have some benefit.
A few ideas:
- Watch a favorite funny video.
- Listen to a song that calms or energizes you.
- Think about something great that happened recently, or an upcoming event you’re looking forward to.
- Text a close friend or loved one.
- Grab a favorite book and re-read a chapter or two.
- Take a short walk.
When to reach out
In-the-moment coping tips often do make a difference, but they don’t replace professional support for anxiety.
A trained therapist can offer more guidance with identifying anxiety triggers and exploring helpful strategies for coping with unwanted thought patterns, sweating and other anxiety symptoms, and emotional distress that relates to excessive sweating.
Reaching out for support is a good next step when either anxiety or sweating begin to affect your:
- daily routine
- personal and professional relationships
- ability to attend school or work
- overall mood and quality of life
- view of yourself
In search of online support? Our review of the best online therapy options can help you find the right fit.
Anxiety sweating is pretty common, but you can find ways to cope with it — and the distress it can cause.
Plenty of different treatments can help prevent excess sweating. Treating the sweating can, in turn, lower your chances of getting stuck in that sweat-anxiety-sweat cycle, or even experiencing depression related to sweating.
Keep in mind, too, that getting support for anxiety can help with all anxiety symptoms, including sweating — but it never hurts to consider addressing both anxiety and sweating at the same time.
Not sure where to start? A healthcare professional can help you explore your options for treatment.