Getting The Chills: Why Stress Can Make You Feel Cold


Have you ever heard someone describe an event that “gave them the chills?” Perhaps it’s the idea of making a critical mistake or getting on the wrong side of a very scary boss. Or even what could happen if you missed a crucial deadline!

While the expression is well known, anxiety is not the first thing most people think of when they start to feel cold for no reason. But chills can be a very common sign of stress, so it’s good to stop and think about what might be causing you to shiver.

If you’ve ever experienced cold hands and feet or a shiver down your spine when you’re feeling anxious, read on to find out whether stress is the culprit for you. This blog will unpack how anxiety can leave you feeling chilly when the sun’s blazing and what you can do to feel better.

How Anxiety Can Make You Feel Cold

Our bodies respond to stress by getting ready for action. This “fight-or-flight” response is triggered by a surge of hormones that redirect blood to our muscles and away from less “urgent” processes and organs. It’s why muscle tension and a racing heart are very common stress symptoms!

There are at least two reasons why this might cause you to feel cold. 

First, as blood is rerouted to more vital organs (your torso muscles, for example), circulation decreases in your extremities. You may experience this as cold fingers, hands, or feet, and it can be worse when you are under a large amount of stress.

With this in mind, tense muscles also play a role in causing your hands and feet to get the chills. It takes physical resources to prime your muscles, which is another reason why circulation is drastically reduced in your extremities.

A second reason is that your body releases epinephrine when you are anxious. This neurotransmitter causes blood vessels to tighten and further reduces circulatory flow to your fingers, hands, feet, and skin. 

All in all, multiple processes occur when your body reacts to stress. So if the temperature’s warm but you’re under a lot of strain, it’s very likely that you may feel like it’s several degrees lower!

The better able you are to recognize your stress symptoms, the more equipped you are to tackle the root causes of your anxiety and manage your symptoms. That’s why I created the Getting The Chills Stress Coaching Card and prepared these tips for you.

3 Tips To Beat The Chills

If you start to feel icy at the thought of a looming deadline or perhaps an important meeting, here are some tips that may help you beat the chills.

1. Have a Cold Shower

This one sounds counterintuitive, but there are good reasons why a shower might raise your body temperature and help you regain sensation if you feel numb.

  • Cold showers stimulate your blood circulation—when your core temperature drops, your heart starts to pump more blood. Because stress causes a rise in your blood pressure, this movement of fresh blood can help to lower that hypertension. 
  • They can also feel good! Studies have shown that cold water can lower the cortisol levels in your blood and stimulate endorphin release. With fewer stress hormones (cortisol) and more feel-good chemicals (endorphins) flowing around, your fight or flight responses may start to ease up, causing you to feel a little warmer and more normal.
  • Taking a cold shower can also be a mindful experience. As you practice being “in the moment” and focusing on present sensations, your mind is naturally distracted from whatever was causing you stress in the first place. Try thinking about how the water feels on your skin, the cold temperature, and even the sounds of water rushing, and see if you start to feel better!

2. Massage Your Hands

You can also restore circulation to your hands with a little self-massage. Massage can reduce your blood pressure and help you relax, sleep better, and feel more positive.

All you need is a little moisturizer and a few minutes to knead your hand. Try these steps:

  • Rub your thumb across your palm in wide circles, starting at the middle and working outward. 
  • Using long, linear movements, rub downward from your knuckles toward your wrist.
  • Wrap your hand around each finger and rotate it in circles—as if you were stirring a pot with a cooking spoon.
  • Working from the base of each digit, rub your finger in small circles. Move upward toward your fingertip. 

3. Hug Someone Special!

Human contact releases oxytocin, also known as a happy hormone or “the love hormone.” This can counteract the negative effects of cortisol and norepinephrine, helping you relieve stress when you are under pressure.

The best thing about this tip is that it’s easy, relaxing, and completely free. Your cuddle partner will also feel better for it—you’ll start to feel warmer pretty quickly!

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

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