How Stress Affects Your Feet
In today’s world, just about everybody deals with stress at some point. Work responsibilities. Family drama. Illness. We’re sure you have your own examples.
And while we certainly hope that the nice spring weather—and maybe even a recent Spring Break excursion—has gotten you in a good mood, we also know that stress levels in America are exceptionally high.
In fact, a 2017 survey conducted by the American Institute of Stress found that almost three quarters of Americans said they regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress, and even more (77%) said they regularly experience physical symptoms!
What do those physical symptoms look like?
We’re sure you can think of a few, including constant fatigue, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite. Chronic stress could even be linked with conditions like heart disease.
But did you know that stress also affects your feet? It’s true. And because April is National Stress Awareness Month, there’s no better time than now to talk about it.
Common Effects of Stress on Your Feet and Ankles
Some of the most common primary physiological effects of stress and anxiety on the body include the release of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), changes to your circulation and respiratory systems, tensing muscles, and reduced immune function.
These systemic effects lead to specific symptoms throughout your body, which very much include your feet. Here are a few notable examples:
Dry and cracked skin, including conditions like eczema and psoriasis
There are a couple of reasons that stress may lead to dry, itchy, or cracking skin.
One is that stressed people are more likely to be dehydrated or overly reliant on caffeinated beverages. Another is that stress can alter the balance of gut bacteria and increase cortisol production, which can both lead to breakouts on skin.
To reduce your risk of these problems, drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet are a good place to start.
Tingling, burning, or other unusual sensations
When your body is stressed out, hyperventilating or full of adrenaline, your body may pump more blood to vital organs—leaving less to go around for feet and ankles.
As a result, tingling or shocking discomfort in the feet is common, especially before and after anxiety attacks.
A quick foot massage may lessen the discomfort, though if you are experiencing more severe or frequent nerve pain in the feet you should see us as soon as possible. Stress may be a factor, but there could be more serious causes (such as diabetes or peripheral neuropathy) that need to be managed.
Cold feet are a common side effect of stress, for reasons that have already been outlined above. One is the reduced blood flow to the feet and ankles associated with “fight or fight” responses. The other is increased sweat production. Sweat’s primary biological function, after all, is to keep the body cool—and feet have a staggering number of sweat glands.
Temporary, periodic cold feet is usually not a serious problem, but if your cold feet are lasting for more than 15-20 minutes at a time, again, it’s a good idea to see us so that we can rule out more serious causes.
Fungal and viral infections like athlete’s foot, fungal toenails, and warts
Your feet rely on sweat glands to stay lubricated, and people who are dealing with stress often sweat excessively.
When your feet, shoes, and socks are damp all the time, they’re a much more tempting environment for nefarious micro-organisms. Compounding the problem, stress also inhibits healthy function of the immune system, so your body can’t fight them off as well.
Make sure you are washing your feet regularly, changing socks and shoes when they get damp, and rotating shoes so that they can fully dry out.
Muscle cramps and spasms
Stress often causes muscles to tense up for a variety of reasons. Changes to circulation and the nervous system can put pressure on blood vessels, which triggers a simultaneous contraction of the muscles. Dehydration and poor diet can also play a role here.
The result is stiffness, pain, and sometimes spasms or twitching. This can happen just about anywhere in the body (and is also one of the top causes of stress-related headache), including the feet and the calves.
If your muscles are feeling tense, make sure you’re drinking a lot of water. You might also try to eat foods high in calcium and magnesium, which promote muscle health, as well as lightly massage your muscles.
De-Stressing Yourself with Physical Exercise
Obviously, the best comprehensive plan for combatting and relieving stress in your own life will depend on a lot of unique factors—including the fundamental cause of your stress, as well as your own personality and preferences. There’s no single, magic technique—it will be a combination of strategies.
That said, one of the best and most consistent stress relievers out there is physical exercise. There are many, many reasons for this:
- Exercise triggers your brain to produce endorphins, which are chemical neurotransmitters that literally make you feel good. (They’re why “runner’s high” is a real thing, for example.)
- Regular exercise helps you to sleep better—both more hours and higher quality. And that helps you feel more alert, refreshed, and relaxed.
- A beautiful hike, engaging game of tennis, or other athletic pursuit gives your mind something else to focus on apart from the stresses of daily life. In many ways, exercise is a form of meditation.
- Exercise is, of course, essential for improving your physical condition. It’ll help you lose weight, improve energy levels, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. These can all be major stressors, or at least amplify existing stress.
- Exercise is strongly linked to better moods, greater self-esteem, and lower physical and mental tension and anxiety.
Of course, exercise can also lead to an entirely different type of stress on feet and ankles—physical stress. And an ill-timed injury to the lower extremity—perhaps the development of heel pain or an ingrown toenail, for example—can be a very frustrating and costly setback.
The good news is we can help you with that tremendously—both in terms of preventing injuries in the first place and making sure you heal and rebound quickly after one.
Our services for athletes and active individuals include helping them find appropriate footwear, fitting custom orthotics for athletes to improve biomechanics and reduce pain, physical therapy exercises, corticosteroid injections, and more.
To get the professional foot care you need, please schedule an appointment with the Texas Foot & Ankle Center today by calling (214) 660-0777.
Doctor's Professional Building 1
1151 N. Buckner Boulevard, Suite 201
Dallas, TX 75218
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12:00PM - 1:00PM