What Are Anxiety Shivers?

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Anxiety shivers are a common symptom of anxiety. Although not a formal clinical term, anxiety shivers refers to the experience of anxiety that might cause someone to shiver, shake, tremble, feel like they have the chills, or feel it is hard to regulate their body temperature. Anxiety shivers can be alarming, but are not dangerous, and go away on their own as your anxiety dissipates.

Characteristics of Anxiety Shivers

Anxiety shivers are most likely to happen when you are experiencing a heightened period of anxiety, such as during a panic attack or anxiety attack. Anxiety shivers can come on suddenly, and usually happen alongside other physical, emotional, and behavioral anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety shivers may include several different features, including:

  • Trembling
  • Tingling and numbness in hands
  • Shaking in the hands and fingers
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling like you have the chills
  • Feeling like the shivering is not something you can control
  • Alternating shivers/chills with hot flashes/sweats
  • Seeming to not be able to control your body temperature

Anxiety can cause many physical sensations, and you may experience these alongside shivers and shakes. Some of the other common physical signs of anxiety include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Stomachaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Labored breathing
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Chest tightness or pain

Finally, along with the physical sensations of anxiety, you may also experience psychological and behavioral changes, including racing thoughts, feelings of doom, feeling like you are in extreme danger, feeling restless and irritable, and feeling on edge.

Causes of Anxiety Shivers

Anxiety shivers are physical symptoms caused by anxiety disorders. You can experience anxiety shivers if you are experiencing a panic attack or anxiety attack. But anxiety shivers can also manifest during times of social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and as a symptom of PTSD.

Physical symptoms of anxiety disorders, including shivers, happen as a result of the fight or flight response. This stress response is an important evolutionary reaction, and prepares us to protect ourselves from danger. The problem is that sometimes the fight or flight response is elicited when there isn’t an extreme danger on the horizon, but rather when we are experiencing heightened anxiety.

When we are feeling acute stress or panic, our fight or flight response triggers the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause intense physical sensations, like rapid heart rate, nausea, stomachaches, shortness of breath, and dilated pupils. Fight or flight hormones can also cause muscle tension, trembling, shaking, and shivering.

Treatment for Anxiety Shivers

Anxiety shivers are something you may experience each time you have a bout of anxiety; others only experience them intermittently with anxiety.

Either way, decreasing instances of anxiety shivers involves treating the anxiety itself.

If this is the first time you’ve experienced anxiety shivers, or if you have never been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder before, it’s important that you visit your healthcare provider to rule out other medical issues that could be causing your symptoms. If your provider believes anxiety is what’s causing your symptoms, they will likely refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Anxiety disorders are best treated with a comprehensive approach. Usually, that means combining talk therapy, lifestyle modifications (exercise, decreasing stimulants like caffeine, managing stress), as well as medication, when indicated.

Types of therapy that are known to help with anxiety disorders include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves understanding the thoughts and behaviors you are having that are triggering or contributing to your anxiety and then learning how to manage these thoughts so they have less power over you
  • Exposure therapy, which offers you a safe way to face your fears and learn to re-engage in activities you have avoided due to anxiety

Medications that are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders include:

  • Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Anxiety-specific medications to be used during an anxiety attack, including benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers

Coping With Anxiety Shivers

While the key to managing anxiety shivers is treating the underlying anxiety condition that is causing the symptoms, sometimes anxiety just happens, and it can be helpful to learn techniques for managing your anxiety symptoms in the moment.

Your goal here will be to bring your body back to homeostasis. Remember, the acute physical symptoms of anxiety happen as a result of the fight or flight stress reaction. Once that reaction is triggered, it can take some time for the hormonal responses to dissipate, but there are things you can do to help relax your body, and bring it back into a place of calm and balance.

Below are some techniques that can help.

Mindfulness Meditation

Studies have found that mindfulness meditation is effective at treating symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, and can also help you manage your stress reaction.

It can be helpful to learn some mindfulness meditation techniques that you can call upon in the moment when you are experiencing anxiety, but you can also try a pre-recorded meditation found on an app or online to help you get through a difficult moment.

Breathing Techniques

Harnessing the power of the breath can help us move through an acute episode of anxiety, and manage the physical sensations that come after the fight or flight system is activated.

Anxiety causes our breathing to be quick and shallow. So any breathing technique that deepens and lengthens the breath can help decrease symptoms. You can place your hands on your belly so that you draw your breath deep and low.

You can also do breathing techniques that involve counting your breaths in, pausing, and then counting your breaths out.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that can help quell anxiety symptoms like shivers. It involves first tensing, then releasing and relaxing your muscles one by one, throughout your body.

To do this, try lying down on your back with your eyes closed. Starting with your toes, move through each part of your body. Notice whether you are feeling tension or stress, then tense and think about letting that tension go, and then move on to the next part of your body.

A Word From Verywell

Anxiety shivers can be intense and catch you off guard. Again, it’s important to rule out other physical causes if you are experiencing a new bout of shivers, shakes, or chills. Once you know that you are dealing with a symptom of anxiety, you can take solace in knowing that this is a common symptom that many people experience. It’s not pleasant but will pass when your anxiety passes.

That said, if anxiety is becoming a chronic problem for you, you shouldn’t suffer. Anxiety is treatable, and compassionate care is out there for you.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons.