When you’re experiencing anxiety, you might feel your heart racing or get sweaty palms. But there’s another symptom of the mental health condition that’s often overlooked: twitching.
According to Demian Brown, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and registered clinical social worker, twitching of your face and body is a common symptom of anxiety — especially around the eyes.
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Why anxiety causes twitching
When we’re anxious, our bodies tense up and become stressed. This physical reaction can make our nervous systems react erratically, causing the nerves stimulating muscles to twitch.
“When you’re under stress, physiological things start to happen to the body,” Brown said. “Your adrenaline and noradrenaline levels increase, as if your body is preparing for some kind of danger. … That takes more blood away from your extremities, and puts it more in the middle of your body.”
This physical response, Brown said, increases your muscle tone and prepares your body for action. The increased level of adrenaline may also contribute to your body’s twitching.
How can you treat twitching?
Because anxiety-related twitching is a symptom of a mental issue, it’s important to treat the underlying cause.
Brown says that practising mindfulness and mediation techniques on a daily basis helps reduce anxiety overall. He said he often gets clients to go on meditative walks where they focus on their breathing and senses, and practice relaxation exercises at home.
Talking to a therapist about your anxiety is also beneficial, as a therapist can help you with coping strategies best suited to your condition.
When twitching is something more
While it can be disruptive, anxiety-related muscle twitching is nothing to be alarmed about, and it should go away on its own. If, however, your twitching happens during periods when you’re not stressed out, you should see your doctor, Brown said.
Muscle twitching or tics can also be a sign of something more serious, like Parkinson’s disease, Tourette syndrome, neuromuscular problems or autoimmune diseases, Brown said.
While your doctor should diagnose the cause of your twitching, Brown said the major difference between anxiety twitching and a more serious medical condition is timing and frequency. He suggests keeping a log of when you experience the twitches, and the circumstances around the symptoms.
For example, if your eye starts twitching before you’re set to give a big presentation at work, chances are you’re anxious. “That would prove it’s more anxiety-driven and situation-based,” Brown said.
But if it happens when you’re calm, take note.