It’s not uncommon for people to experience increased sweating when they feel anxious or stressed. This sweating response is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system and can occur across the body or be localized to specific areas like the hands, underarms, or feet. If you find yourself struggling with sweaty feet related to anxiety, know that you’re not alone. The good news is there are steps you can take to manage this symptom.
Excessive foot perspiration, also known as plantar hyperhidrosis, can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Your feet may feel unusually damp or cold as the sweat evaporates. This can lead to issues like athletes foot, infections, or smelly feet. Sweaty feet caused by anxiety tends to come on suddenly when you’re in a stressful situation. Then as your anxiety decreases, so does the sweating.
Some reasons anxiety triggers sweaty feet include:
- Activation of the fight-or-flight response – When you perceive a threat, whether real or imagined, your sympathetic nervous system kicks in to prepare your body to take action. Sweating is one way your body cools itself during this preparatory state.
- Increased focus on your feet – People often report sweaty hands and feet when they’re nervous because they become hyper-aware of these body parts. Tuning into the sensations in your feet can snowball and make you feel like you’re excessively sweating.
- Feeling out of control – Anxiety often involves feeling like you’re not in control of your own body or emotions. Excessive sweating can contribute to this, making it seem like your own feet are acting against you.
- Avoidance of social situations – If sweaty feet keep you from going out and interacting with others, this avoidance behavior can further increase anxiety in the long run. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
While there’s no instant cure for anxiety-related sweaty feet, the following coping strategies can help you manage symptoms:
- Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. Calming your nervous system can reduce sweating.
- Use clinical strength antiperspirant or wipes just on your feet to help control moisture. Change your socks more frequently to keep feet dry.
- Wear moisture-wicking or breathable socks to help sweat evaporate rather than build up. Cotton traps sweat, so opt for socks with synthetic fibers or wool.
- Choose supportive, well-ventilated shoes. Sandals or open-toed shoes may also help. Avoid plastic shoes or boots that don’t breathe.
- Apply foot powder or spray to help absorb sweat and reduce friction that can lead to blisters.
- Keep feet dry between showers by using a hair dryer on a cool setting or blotting with paper towels.
- Talk to your doctor about prescription topical anticholinergic medications that block sweat glands from producing moisture.
- Consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to address the underlying anxiety, learn coping strategies, and make exposure progress.
- Join an anxiety support group to realize you’re not the only one dealing with this symptom.
- Carry extra socks or shoe liners. Excusing yourself to change them can help you feel more confident.
- Remind yourself that everyone sweats – it’s a natural bodily function. The sweating will eventually subside even if your anxiety persists in the moment.
While excessive foot sweating can be aggravating and uncomfortable during times of anxiety, there are many ways to manage it. Finding the right combination of lifestyle changes, foot hygiene habits, and anxiety calming techniques can help you handle this symptom and reduce its social impact. Be patient with yourself as you explore different options. Focus on the fact that this is a common, temporary response, not something to feel ashamed about. Over time, you’ll likely find the sweating becomes less severe as you learn to short-circuit anxiety at its roots.