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. 

Impact

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. 

Another example of emotionally paralyzing anxiety is severe anxiety that is so preoccupying that you are unable to emotionally respond to anything else, good or bad.

Impact

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

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 are important in managing your anxiety. These can help rule out or treat physical health conditions that might be contributing to your symptoms, as well as help you better understand and cope with physical symptoms that might be a manifestation of your anxiety.
  • 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 are prescribed for the short-term relief of anxiety symptoms. Antidepressant medications are used longer-term for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

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.

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