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Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Ever noticed that when you get a little anxious, your armpits get a little sweaty? Or maybe your forehead beads with perspiration. Turns out that sweating is actually a totally common symptom of anxiety.
But just because it’s normal doesn’t make it any less embarrassing. Imagine you are about to give an important presentation at work and suddenly your blouse is stained with sweat. Yikes.
This condition of sweating more than average is called hyperhidrosis. And, thankfully, there are ways you can manage your anxiety sweating.
Sweat glands play a vital role. They help your body maintain a healthy body temperature, especially when it gets hot out or when you exercise.
When your sweat glands overreact regularly and it’s not due to another medical issue, it’s a condition called primary hyperhidrosis. If this excessive sweating is centralized in the hands, feet and armpits, it’s called focal hyperhidrosis.
If your sweating is caused by another condition, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis. This can be caused by conditions such as cancer, certain medications, glucose control disorders, an overactive thyroid and menopause. Another thing that can cause secondary hyperhidrosis? Anxiety conditions.
One study of 500 patients with hyperhidrosis, for example, found that nearly 14 percent of them had anxiety.
Other research indicates that hyperhidrosis is associated with social and emotional distress. However, rates of anxiety or depression haven’t been studied in a large, nationally representative group of people with hyperhidrosis.
If your anxiety leads to nervous sweating (AKA hyperhidrosis), it can manifest in a few different ways. And how you experience hyperhidrosis may be different than how someone else experiences the condition.
Some people with hyperhidrosis may notice their armpits get really sweaty or their lower back pools with sweat. Or their sweat starts soaking through their clothes. Other people may get sweat beads on their face or their hands and feet.
Sweating excessively can also cause other symptoms or issues to pop up. For example, you get itchy or irritated, or have skin discoloration, in the areas where you sweat a lot. Body odor can also become an issue — this is caused by bacteria on the skin mixing with sweat.
While there is no cure for focal hyperhidrosis, you can treat — and even cure — secondary hyperhidrosis.
First, you can try to address the actual sweating. To do this, a healthcare provider may recommend switching to an aluminum-based antiperspirant, which works by sealing up the sweat glands. You can find aluminum-based antiperspirant over the counter, or a medical professional can offer a prescription-strength option.
Another option is botulinum toxin injections (also known as Botox) in the areas where you sweat a lot. These injections can block the nerves that cause sweating.
But while these options may address excessive sweating caused by anxiety, they won’t help with your underlying anxiety.
If you want to get to the root of your nervous sweating, it means dealing with your anxiety. Not only will you stop having to worry that your stress and worries will lead to embarrassing sweat problems, but your overall quality of life will also improve.
A mental health professional can help figure out if you are dealing with an anxiety disorder. There are five known anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder.
If you are diagnosed with any of these anxiety disorders, a healthcare professional can also help you find the right treatment. Two of the most common ways to treat symptoms of anxiety are therapy and medication — or a combo of both.
In CBT, you will team up with a mental health professional to find the behaviors that trigger or boost your anxiety. From there, you’ll collaborate to come up with ways to change those unhelpful patterns.
There are a few types of anti-anxiety medications. One form is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by increasing the level of serotonin in your brain. Common SSRIs are sertraline, citalopram and fluoxetine.
If your anxiety is causing excessive sweating, it may be a medical condition called secondary hyperhidrosis. Essentially, all this means is that you are majorly sweating due to another condition (hello, anxiety).
You may notice that your heart races and you experience excessive sweating in social situations or in stressful situations. Whenever it happens and whatever the cause, constantly worrying about perspiring too much can affect your quality of life — and so can anxiety.
There are a variety of treatments that can help you stop your excessive sweating during everyday situations. Stronger antiperspirants may help. Another option to consider is Botox injections.
But to really pull the plug on excess sweating, it’s best to deal with your actual anxiety (if that is determined to be the cause). If you’d like to do this, consider scheduling a consultation with a mental health provider.
Dr. Jill Johnson is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner and board-certified in Aesthetic Medicine. She has clinical and leadership experience in emergency services, Family Practice, and Aesthetics.
Jill graduated with honors from Frontier Nursing University School of Midwifery and Family Practice, where she received a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialty in Family Nursing. She completed her doctoral degree at Case Western Reserve University.
Jill is a national speaker on various topics involving critical care, emergency and air medical topics. She has authored and reviewed for numerous publications. You can find Jill on Linkedin for more information.
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