Anxiety can cause a variety of problems in one’s daily life and even have physical repercussions. If someone with anxiety gets nervous or stressed enough, their body might become tense, causing their muscles to spasm or jerk uncontrollably. These are what’s often called anxiety tics or, perhaps more accurately, anxiety twitches.
Are Anxiety Tics a Thing? What Is an Anxiety Tic?
Anxiety tics or twitches happen when someone experiences involuntary twitching or tension during times of heightened stress or anxiety. These will usually look like muscle spasms throughout the body—specifically around the eyes, arms, legs, neck, or throat—or nervous habits like clenching one’s jaw, twisting or pulling hair, picking at skin, biting fingernails, or grinding teeth.
Tics, in a more official sense of the word, are actually separate behaviors that occur as a result of tic disorders. Though tics can often look very similar to anxiety twitches, they have different causes.
However, tics can happen to people with anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) if they have a co-occurring tic disorder.
What Are the Types of Tics?
There are two main types of tics: motor and vocal. Motor tics are tics that involve sudden, involuntary physical movement, while vocal tics are involuntary sounds made by someone.
Some examples of motor tics include:
- Repeated blinking
- Muscle spasms or twitches in the neck, eyes, nose, throat, or mouth
- Grimacing or making faces
Examples of vocal tics include:
- Clearing your throat
- Clicking sounds
Within these categories, tics can also be classified as simple or complex. Simple tics are ones that last for only a moment and involve fewer muscles, such as spasms, grunting, grimacing, or blinking. Complex tics use multiple muscles, and can sometimes have a pattern of multiple actions in a row. These tics can involve jumping, hand gestures, or repeatedly touching or smelling objects. Both tics and anxiety twitches can be classified into each category.
These tics often result from having a tic disorder. There are three such disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, DSM-5: Tourette’s, persistent motor or vocal tic disorder, and provisional tic disorder. Tic disorders can share symptoms but differ in the type of tics that are present and how long the symptoms last.
However, if only specific patterns like muscle twitches are present, the symptoms may be a result of anxiety twitches.
Anxiety Tics vs. Tourette's: Can You Have Tics Without Tourette's?
Yes, you can experience tics without having Tourette’s. Tourette’s, as a tic disorder, is a common reason why someone is experiencing tics. If not Tourette’s, though, other tic disorders, such as persistent motor or vocal tic disorder or provisional tic disorder, could be what’s causing your tics.
However, if the only symptom you’re experiencing is uncontrollable muscle movements or nervous habits like unconsciously biting your nails when you’re anxious or stressed—and you aren’t diagnosed with a tic disorder—then you’re likely being plagued by anxiety twitches.
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Are Tics from Anxiety Normal?
Experiencing twitches like eye twitching, repeatedly clearing your throat, or picking at your skin are normal responses to the stress that your body is trying to manage. However, they are usually a sign that you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or stress. Often, these twitches go away on their own, but it’s best to be aware of them and why they’re happening, and try to lower your stress levels if possible.
What Causes Anxiety Tics?
Stress and anxiety can cause physical tension and make you develop nervous twitches like clenching your jaw, picking at your skin, or biting your nails. Anxiety can also cause heightened muscle tension, as neurotransmitters can be released in response to extreme stress. This, in turn, causes abnormal spasms or twitching. These symptoms can look very similar to tics caused by tic disorders, but they differ in cause.
Tics have no specific cause, though they occur due to disorders like Tourette’s. Stress, lack of sleep, and caffeine can increase one’s propensity to tic, but they are not the root cause, unlike with anxiety twitches.
How Do You Get Rid of Anxiety Tics? How Do You Stop Anxiety Tics?
Anxiety twitches will usually go away on their own, but the best way to help that process is to identify the stressor and manage the stress or anxiety it’s causing. There are many approaches to stress relief, but first, it’s useful to ask yourself what the source of your anxiety could be.
Once it’s been identified, then you can work to effectively manage your stress by being aware of your triggers and learning how to let go of stress rather than continuing to hold it in your body. Putting these practices into place will actively help your anxiety twitches go away.
Outlets that are excellent for managing anxiety include exercise, meditation and mindfulness, journaling, and other self-care activities. If your anxiety twitches persist, or if your anxiety symptoms feel like too much for you to handle, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide more individualized care and advice for your anxiety.
What Do Anxiety Tics Feel Like?
Anxiety twitches will feel like an uncontrollable jerk or movement. They can often become frustrating and annoying for people, since their involuntary nature means that these twitches happen at random, and often inconvenient, times.
What Do Anxiety Tics Look Like?
Anxiety twitches will likely catch both you and the person they’re happening to by surprise. They might look unnatural and uncomfortable, or at other times they might just seem sudden.
How Do You Test for Anxiety Tics?
The best way to identify whether you’re having an anxious twitch is by talking to a medical professional. They’ll be able to assess your condition, examine your symptoms, and prescribe the best treatment plan for you.
Though anxiety twitches aren’t a treatable disorder like tic disorders, there are ways to lessen the symptoms. Using tactics like meditation and therapy for your anxiety will not only help you manage your twitching, it can also help in preventing future bouts of anxiety twitches.