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Can Holiday Stress Affect Your Hands

The holidays can be a stressful time for many people. And while certain symptoms of stress and anxiety are more common — such as feeling nervous, jumpy, or worrisome — stress can also manifest as issues in your hands. Symptoms of anxiety that affect the hands and fingers are not what people typically recognize — so stop for a moment and pay attention to your body.

Finger pain is one of the most common complaints, but it's also one of the most complex. Beyond a few medical issues (such as arthritis), it is unusual to experience pain in the fingers. However, anxiety does cause is an oversensitivity to pain.

Stress can cause "hypersensitivity." This is when your mind is so in touch with the way your body feels that it notices every single sensation and focuses on it to the point where the sensation appears to be amplified. Therefore, if you are experiencing hand or finger pain during times of stress, there is a very good chance that what you're experiencing is normal finger pain.

People get finger pain all the time from typing, playing sports, etc. But most people pay almost no attention to it because the pain is typical. Unfortunately, if you're hypersensitive due to stress, you always notice the pain, think about the pain, and amplify the pain. It's the nature of the condition.

Hand temperature can fluctuate in times of stress. When the body is stressed, it sends nerve and hormone signals to blood vessels in the hand. Those blood vessels then constrict, reducing the amount of blood in the fingers. With less blood flow, the fingers become cold. Typically, our blood temperature runs around 98.6 degrees. When we’re relaxed, our skin temperature can go almost as high as our blood temperature — around 94 degrees or higher.

During a stress response, the fingers can go as cold as the ambient room temperature. So, if you’re nice and relaxed — hands are warm. If your adrenaline is pumping — cold. When stressed, some people only drop one or two degrees. Others can drop as much as 20 degrees and have hand temperatures as low as room temperature. By monitoring your skin temperature over time, you will develop an understanding of your own unique response.

You can measure your hand temperature with a thermometer or use a temperature dot (designed to read skin temperature through a sticker placed between the thumb and forefinger). Of course, cold hands can also be a symptom of certain conditions that restrict blood flow, like age, diabetes, migraines, and Raynaud’s Syndrome. However, if you have none of the above and find your hands consistently cold, you could have chronic stress.

Tingling, numbness, and burning are common issues in the fingers, often the same way your foot or leg feels when it's waking up after falling asleep. Some people experience more of a numbness, while others experience more of a burning sensation. This is normal — the sensation is experienced differently by different people. Hypersensitivity can play a role here too, but there are usually two reasons that this occurs:

  • Adrenaline: When you have anxiety, your body goes into fight or flight mode, and that means that adrenaline is coursing through your veins all the time. One of the effects of this system is to take blood away from unimportant areas and move it quickly through the heart. This can cause your fingers to be a bit colder and may lead to tingling sensations.

  • Hyperventilation is more common, although it tends to affect those with panic attacks more than any other type of anxiety. Hyperventilation is an extremely common panic symptom, where a person breathes out too much carbon dioxide. Your body needs Co2, and so hyperventilation (breathing too fast or taking deeper breaths than you need to) causes your blood vessels to dilate and your fingers to tingle.

Moving Issues/Spasms are the result of your muscles experiencing tension, which comes when you are under stress. Your muscles spasms are the result of nerves that fire at unusual rates due to the hormones involved in stress and the way they bother the nerve endings. At any moment your fingers can twitch or spasm, which can be disturbing but not otherwise dangerous.

Some people also find that their fingers don't move as easily as well or feel almost foreign to them. This is another strange symptom of severe anxiety — normally natural processes start to feel unnatural, because the mind is so attuned to each movement that they are no longer as automatic as they used to be.

How to Overcome Finger Symptoms from Anxiety

If you feel that stress causing the development of these types of symptoms, here are some individual treatments to consider:

  • Pain: Normal painkillers and stretching are usually enough to reduce pain in the fingers and hands. Pain is still pain like any other, even when it comes from anxiety, so the same tools you would use to stop any type of pain generally work with your fingers.

  • Tingling: Adrenaline can be reduced by waiting it out or going for a short walk or run. Hyperventilation can be solved by trying to breathe slowly so that you can regain your carbon dioxide levels. Take slow, controlled breaths breathing in for 5 seconds, holding for 2 seconds, and breathing out for at least 7 seconds. Fight the urge to take deeper breaths or breathe too quickly.

  • Movement If you're finding that your fingers don't feel like they're moving the way you expect, you might need to distract yourself so that you're not focusing too much on the way your fingers feel. A good strategy is simply to call someone. Talking to someone on the phone is very distracting and can help you focus less on each individual movement that you make.

These are some basic strategies you can use to try to manage your hand and finger issues during stressful times. In general, the only true cure is going to be to stop the anxiety that's causing them. Consult a doctor if you are experiencing prolonged periods of stress, or if you are experiencing other symptoms that seem uncontrollable.


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