Hyperhidrosis is a widespread sweating disorder characterized by excessive sweating regardless of body temperature. Although it’s actually more common than peanut allergies or psoriasis, myths and misconceptions about excessive sweating are everywhere.
One contested issue is the connection between sweating and anxiety — nervous sweating — and this is a subject that demands nuance and the ability to accept a bit of a gray area.
As a passionate advocate for hyperhidrosis sufferers and patients, Lisa has been fighting to increase awareness, bust myths, and educate the healthcare and industry since 2003.
In this article, you'll find more information about how anxiety can induce hyperhidrosis and how to prevent it. But before we proceed, here are some relevant information about anxiety sweating:
- What is the link between hyperhidrosis and anxiety?
- What role does stigma play in hyperhidrosis anxiety?
- What can patients do about hyperhidrosis anxiety?
Does Anxiety Cause Sweating?
Even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder, general nervousness and anxiety can still make you sweat.
Sweating is a response to fear or stress, triggering your body’s “fight or flight” response. Since in most stressful situations running away or punching somebody is not an option, your body gets all revved up with no place to go. To regulate your temperature, your cooling system kicks in.
Like typical sweat, anxiety sweating can appear all over your body. However, you will most often notice anxiety sweat on your palms. And the more you worry, the more your hyperhidrosis anxiety makes you sweat.
Research About Anxiety and Sweating
One 2002 study researched the prevalence of hyperhidrosis among people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) and found that more than a quarter of them experienced hyperhidrosis. And, as Lisa cites in her research into the patient experience, one key 2016 report compares the prevalence of anxiety and depression in patients with hyperhidrosis versus patients without hyperhidrosis:
“This study found that anxiety was present in 21.3% of patients with the condition, and depression was present in 27.2%,” Lisa explains. “And for patients without hyperhidrosis, anxiety and depression fell to just 7.5% and 9.7% respectively.”
Other research, published in 2014, found that in patients with severe cases of hyperhidrosis, the rate of social anxiety disorder was 47.1% — compared to just 13.8% in patients without hyperhidrosis.
The Connection Between Social Anxiety and Hyperhidrosis
To summarize, researchers agree that there is a clear correlation between anxiety and sweating. One study concludes, “research shows that social anxiety does not explain hyperhidrosis, but that excessive sweating reduces the threshold for social anxiety.” Another report shows “a significant association between hyperhidrosis and the prevalence of anxiety, depression, and ADD regardless of gender or age.”
This means that both conditions can be treated as part of what Lisa calls “combination therapy” — to look at different treatment types that can be used together to improve the quality of life for sufferers.
Note: Duradry is an FDA-approved treatment that can reduce excessive sweating, using a simple 3-step process to eliminate sweat in the underarms. You can try Duradry as part of your treatment, and we’ll commit to giving you a full refund if you’re not satisfied with the results.
Challenges in Finding the Right Treatment
According to Lisa, the lack of widespread knowledge about hyperhidrosis within the medical community can sometimes lead to a vicious cycle between these two types of hyperhidrosis, and can also confuse sufferers about what the underlying cause of their condition is.
“If you go to the doctor and say that you’re sweating profusely on the palms of your hands, they may automatically attribute this experience to anxiety,” she says. “And unfortunately, one of the most common causes of secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is anxiety medication. So while the medication may help with anxiety, and perhaps somewhat with palm-sweating (reducing the number of sweating episodes for example), it may cause profuse sweating at night and/or on large areas of the body.”
So, rather than offering the patient a range of potential hyperhidrosis treatments, the healthcare professional inadvertently gives them something that will make the problem worse, or create an additional anxiety sweating issue.
“It’s entirely possible that primary focal hyperhidrosis will coexist with other conditions, both physical and psychological,” Lisa says. “But the inexorable link between sweating and subjective anxiety or nervousness has caused many patients to be given treatment that doesn’t actually help them with their focal, primary excessive sweating.”
So, What's Anxiety Sweating Exactly?
To start, let’s explain the two different types of hyperhidrosis, so we can better understand what causes anxiety sweating.
- Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis: Primary hyperhidrosis is when the sweating disorder isn’t caused by another physical or psychological health condition. Primary hyperhidrosis sufferers don’t just sweat when they are nervous, they sweat for no discernable reason.
- Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis: Secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by a separate medical condition or by medication side effects. This usually occurs more broadly on the body, rather than in specific areas. The hyperhidrosis anxiety sufferers deal with – excessive sweating caused by stress – is secondary hyperhidrosis.
One big differentiator between primary and secondary hyperhidrosis is heavy sweating while sleeping, or night sweats. Night sweats are common in people with secondary hyperhidrosis but are not generally found in people with primary hyperhidrosis.
Signs That You May Have Anxiety Sweating
If your fears of sweating are isolating you from other people, you may be suffering from social anxiety and anxiety sweating.
An Israeli study on how to stop social anxiety sweating found that, while hyperhidrosis is not entirely caused by social anxiety, hyperhidrosis leads to social anxiety and self-isolation. Both social anxiety and hyperhidrosis can lead to a fear of strangers and avoidance of public situations.
Nervous sweating can become a vicious circle. Sweating triggers fears of being humiliated by others. Worries about sweating in public trigger your body’s sweat glands. As you feel yourself getting damp, your worries intensify, and with them your sweating.
How to Stop Anxiety Sweating
The best way to stop anxiety is sweating is to simply stop the stress. While staying calm in stressful situations is often easier said than done, one of the best ways to calm down when sweating nervously is taking a few deep breaths.
Deep breaths help you relax and avoid carbon dioxide/oxygen imbalances that can cause muscle tension, increased sweating, and sweaty hands and feet anxiety. These imbalances trigger your body's "fight or flight" response. In anticipation of a long run or a brutal struggle, your body turns on its cooling systems (your sweat glands) to avoid overheating during exertion that never comes.
Deodorants and antiperspirants are the first line of treatment for anxiety armpit sweat. If your sweaty palm anxiety gets serious, you can also look into botox injections, microwave treatments, and sweat gland removal.
Can Anxiety Cause Night Sweats?
While anxiety and stress are mental health issues, they often involve physical symptoms too. Many people suffering from anxiety disorders find themselves wide awake and dripping with sweat throughout the night.
Night sweats are a common and distressing anxiety symptom. If you are suffering from anxiety and night sweats, your physician might recommend talk therapy or medication to deal with your feelings of worry, dread, and fear.
A therapist can help you manage uncomfortable feelings and provide tips on coping with stressful situations. Learning to put your fears in a proper, realistic perspective can bring you better and less sweaty sleep.
7 Tips to Prevent Anxiety Sweating While You Sleep
#1: Pace Your Breathing
Paced breathing, a technique used in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), involves taking deep, slow breaths with your diaphragm to calm your central nervous system and relax your body.
Practicing paced breathing just a few times a day can help you calm your night sweats anxiety.
#2: Put a Chilled Towel on Your Forehead
If night sweats and anxiety are waking you up regularly, keep some rolled wet towels in your fridge or freezer.
When you need help getting back to sleep, lay a chilled towel across your forehead or place it on the back of your neck.
#3: Wear Breathable Sleepwear
One of the ways you can prevent anxiety sweating at night is to try loose-fitting, quick-drying, light, and breathable fabrics for your sleepwear and bedding. Experiment to find the sheets and sleepwear that offer you the most comfort at night.
#4: Learn to Reduce Anxiety Before Bedtime
Being anxious about not having adequate rest can escalate night sweats anxiety and interfere with sleep quality. Learning new anxiety coping skills can help you break this cycle.
Worrying now creates unnecessary agitation (and sweat) about things that have not happened. When you are fearful about the future, grounding and centering exercises can help you stay in the present. If your worrisome thoughts persist, write them down and put them in a “parking lot” for tomorrow.
#5: Avoid Triggers
Take a break from sweat-triggering spicy dishes, caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and hot beverages. Avoid smoking cigarettes and drugs that can increase sweating.
You should also refrain from exercising close to your bedtime, as working out can lead to increased sweating.
And because of the close connection between stress and night sweats, you should avoid anxiety triggers before bedtime. If this is not possible, work on techniques that can help you to manage your anxieties.
#6: Use Antiperspirant at Night
While most of us apply antiperspirant after our morning shower, antiperspirants can be more effective if applied at night when the sweat glands are less active. Those dealing with stress and night sweats might want to try Duradry PM.
Duradry PM uses aluminum chloride, the active ingredient in prescription Drysol, to block your sweat glands and dramatically lower perspiration. Combined with salicylic acid to improve dryness and reduce side effects, this makes Duradry PM a powerful solution to sweating problems.
#7: Take a Warm Bath
Warm, soapy baths not only help you relax and forget your worries after a long day. They also kill the bacteria that make your sweat smell. Go with a warm rather than a hot bath for night sweats and anxiety.
Patient Experience: Hyperhidrosis Anxiety and Psychological Impacts
Social anxiety sweating can be an isolating, humiliating disease with serious psychological and social impact on anxiety sweating sufferers. Because most cases of hyperhidrosis go undiagnosed, many patients suffer their reduced quality of life in silence.
Here are a few of the social and psychological side effects of anxiety sweating.
Psychological Impacts of Hyperhidrosis
As anyone with hyperhidrosis from anxiety will know (and I’m one of them), extreme uncontrollable sweating can have a massive effect on your confidence and sense of self-worth.
According to Lisa, “one of the biggest myths is that hyperhidrosis is no big deal.” And even though hyperhidrosis isn’t all-or-nothing in terms of its severity — i.e., there’s a spectrum of varying sweating levels — “the impact is often dismissed and not fully understood.”
Social Impacts of Hyperhidrosis
“A few years ago,” Lisa says, “we did a survey and found that the experience of sweating excessively is felt to be worse than many other conditions, for example, halitosis (bad breath).” Despite this, many sufferers feel their condition is trivialized, or there’s a social stigma around excessive sweating that makes it difficult for non-sufferers to understand and empathize with.
Lisa thinks we still have a long way to go to overcome this stigma.
“Sweating is associated with all kinds of negative connotations,” she says. “For example, that a person can’t be trusted, or they’re overweight, smelly, or unclean. And if someone sweats a lot, they’re seen as too nervous to handle pressure, or somehow unhinged.” And according to Lisa, this confuses people about the reality that hyperhidrosis is uncontrollable.
All this contributes to sufferers feeling misunderstood and unsupported, especially when their healthcare professional doesn’t offer effective solutions. “This can cause people to turn inwards, thereby increasing the chances of social anxiety and depression — because they feel ashamed of themselves and their body, judged, and they don’t know where to turn,” Lisa says.
How to Reduce Hyperhidrosis Stigma
As a hyperhidrosis sufferer who first started experiencing excessive sweating during my teenage years, I remember a huge sense of relief when I realized I wasn’t alone with the condition.
In fact, hyperhidrosis is relatively common — more than 15 million Americans suffer from it, which is 4.8% of the population. And this is widely considered to be a conservative estimate because many cases go unreported. Already, this makes hyperhidrosis more common than psoriasis, peanut allergies, and many other widely-understood conditions.
According to Lisa, “we have so many subtle and profound ways to reduce stigma.” And she says shouting from the rooftops about the millions of people suffering from hyperhidrosis is one way to minimize shame. So too is committing to educating and informing more family doctors.
And Lisa wants to drive the point home to everyone she encounters that excessive sweating caused by hyperhidrosis is truly uncontrollable without the support of treatment.
“Every word matters,” she says. “So, we need to educate the wider world that sufferers don’t have control over their sweating disorder. It’s not their fault.” According to Lisa, this is one critical step towards building better global understanding and empathy, thereby contributing to a greater sense of wellbeing and improving the patient’s experience with anxiety and sweating.
Lisa advises sufferers she meets to figure out the combination of treatments that work for them. “For some, this is prescription topical wipes like Qbrexza® or over-the-counter antiperspirants, and for others, it might be Botox®, miraDry® or another anxiety sweating medication. Combining therapies to fit your individual needs and sweating experience is key,” she says. “In any case, managing the sweat is one battle, and this can be combined with psychological assistance to help you deal with the anxiety.”
And knowing you’re not alone can also be game-changing. “Go to the IHhS website (SweatHelp.org) and you’ll find a gazillion people who are experiencing similar struggles,” she says. “And if you sign up to our newsletter, you’ll get a monthly dose of intelligent info — as well as invitations to clinical trials, advice on choosing a healthcare provider, and more.”
A huge thank you to Lisa Pieretti and her incredible team at the International Hyperhidrosis Society. Duradry is a proud sponsor of the 2020 Hyperhidrosis Awareness Month.
If you want to ease the symptoms of hyperhidrosis, Duradry’s 3-step system can be your ally.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do I Sweat When I'm Nervous?
Sweating is a stress response that helps cool your body down so you don't overheat. Nervousness triggers your body's "fight or flight" response, which leads to sweating when nervous. It can also signal certain areas of your body, especially your palms, to sweat.
Read more to find out which part of the body sweats the most.
Is Sweating a Sign of Anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the many causes of excessive sweating. Sweating commonly happens as a response to fear or stress, which is why anxiety so often leads to excessive sweating. Sweating can be caused by generalized anxiety or by specific anxiety triggers (an important meeting, for example).
Like typical sweat, anxiety sweat can appear all over your body, but you'll usually notice it most on your palms and the soles of your feet.
What Emotions Make You Sweat?
We’ve all broken out in a sweat after eating spicy food. Most of us have experienced sweating because we were frightened, ashamed, nervous, or in pain.
A Utrecht University experiment found that the smell of sweat induced by fear produced a different reaction than that of sweat induced by disgust. Our sweat glands not only prepare us to deal with a frightening situation, they signal to fellow pack members that something is amiss.
Can Stress Cause Night Sweats?
Stress and anxiety are a frequent cause of night sweats. When we lie awake worrying, our brain triggers our sweat glands in anticipation of an upcoming conflict. But since we can neither run nor fight, this cooling simply leaves us sweaty and uncomfortable as well as nervous.
When Should I Be Worried About Night Sweats?
While most night sweats are merely an uncomfortable inconvenience, night sweats can also be a symptom of a more serious underlying condition.
Consult a physician if your night sweats have been ongoing for two weeks or longer and are accompanied by other symptoms like:
- Unintentional weight loss
- Body aches and joint pain
- Enlarged lymph nodes
Why Does Anxiety Sweat Smell Different?
Stress causes you to sweat more, and that sweat smells different because of how it interacts with the bacteria on your skin.
When you are stressed, your body’s apocrine sweat glands secrete approximately 30 times more oily, thick apocrine sweat. The apocrine glands are found primarily in your armpits and genital region, areas that also have more hair follicles.
Bacteria living in those areas feed off the apocrine sweat and produce a distinctive body odor.