How to Cope With Paralyzing Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that can cause severe symptoms. One of the symptoms that you may experience is paralysis, where the anxiety is so overwhelming that you are unable to function.

Anxiety can paralyze you both physically and emotionally, explains Paula Zimbrean, MD, a psychiatrist at Yale Medicine. 

Zimbrean describes what emotional and physical paralysis can feel like and how they can impact your life.

Physically Paralyzing Anxiety

Paula Zimbrean, MD

Anxiety can cause multiple physical symptoms and one of them is the sensation of being unable to move physically, to the extent where you feel like you cannot walk or move your arms and legs.

— Paula Zimbrean, MD

You may experience physically paralyzing anxiety in the wake of a clear stressor, a major life change, a disaster, or a traumatic event. However, it can sometimes occur without you being aware of the cause. 


The immediate impact of physically paralyzing anxiety is the inability to perform certain everyday tasks, work-related assignments, or social activities.

It can also cause you to believe that something is physically wrong with you. People sometimes seek medical attention in this case, undergoing several healthcare visits and medical investigations, which may not lead to any significant findings and may even put them at risk for adverse reactions. 

For instance, someone who suddenly cannot move and goes to the emergency room may be recommended to undergo a lumbar puncture procedure, which is invasive, painful, and unnecessary.  

Emotionally Paralyzing Anxiety

A more general understanding of emotionally paralyzing anxiety is anxiety that interferes with multiple aspects of everyday life. It can cause you to avoid all anxiety-provoking situations and limit your life to a significant extent. An example is a person with agoraphobia, who due to anxiety becomes homebound and never leaves the house, or needs a companion in order to do so. 

A more literal version of emotionally paralyzing anxiety is severe anxiety that takes over all your other emotions, making you unable to react to either good or bad events that may happen. 


Emotionally paralyzing anxiety can be more subtle, causing people around you to perceive you as aloof, inappropriately afraid, or preoccupied.

It can affect other areas of your life such as social interactions, intimate relationships, or work performance, causing them to suffer. In some cases, people are so anxious that they avoid going for their healthcare appointments, and their health can suffer as well.

Treatment Options

Zimbrean shares some treatment options and coping strategies that can help you deal with paralyzing anxiety. These are listed below:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can teach you to break the relationship between the emotion of the anxiety and the particular behavior that is getting in your way, such as the inability to move or do things that cause anxiety. 
  • Identifying your triggers: Identifying the factors that trigger your anxiety can be helpful. However, this is not always possible, and sometimes, even if the factor is identified, it is not always easily removed. 
  • Meditation: Meditation and mindfulness techniques can help you focus on the present and keep the anxiety at bay. 
  • Maintaining your health: Maintaining your health and undergoing regular health check-ups can help rule out physical health conditions. This makes it easier for healthcare providers to determine that the symptoms you are experiencing are due to anxiety. This is not always easy, as it is often counterintuitive that an emotional condition may cause a physical reaction. 
  • Medication: Medications may sometimes be necessary in order to reduce the severity of your anxiety and prevent the recurrence of anxiety attacks. Benzodiazepines are medications that can treat this condition in the short term, whereas antidepressants can help people who require long-term treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Anxiety can paralyze you physically or emotionally. Emotionally paralyzing anxiety can take a toll on your work and relationships, whereas physically paralyzing anxiety can affect your ability to perform daily tasks and in some cases, lead to lengthy medical investigations or risky procedures.

You can seek treatment for your anxiety and more specifically for the paralysis you are experiencing. Treatment can take the form of therapy, medication, and mindfulness exercises. While it can seem daunting, it's important to take steps and seek professional help.

1 Source
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Anxiety disorders: types, causes, symptoms, and treatments.

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.