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Why You Sweat When You Get Anxious

It’s all to do with a different sort of leakage

When life hits DEFCON 1, chances are, you’re sweating. Maybe you’re minutes away from a job interview at the tech startup you’ve always wanted to work for — the one where everyone rides mini-scooters and the fridge is always stocked with six different kinds of sparkling water. Or maybe you’re about to go on a date with someone you’re convinced is the one, but you also just got a surprise breakout. Whatever the situation, if you’re nervous, your pits are probably leaking, too.

But why?

Like all bodily secretions, there’s a scientific explanation for said leakage, and in this case, it’s sort of hilarious: You sweat when you’re nervous so you don’t piss yourself. “Stress hormones ready the body for immediate action by changing how the body functions when danger is perceived,” says Jim Folk, president of anxietycentre.com, a website dedicated to helping people overcome anxiety. “Part of this change includes increasing perspiration, so that the body’s water can be eliminated through the skin, rather than through the kidneys — that way, you don’t have to stop to urinate in the midst of defending yourself from, or escaping, harm.”

Basically, it’s a part of your body’s fight-or-flight response, in which, amongst other things, there’s “an increase in respiration and heart rate, to shunt blood to the parts more necessary for emergency action and away from those that aren’t,” says Folk. That’s another reason you may be sweating: If you’ve ever felt hot and red-faced due to nerves, that’s because this increased respiration and shunting action causes the body’s temperature to rise. And when that happens? That’s right — you sweat.

Furthermore, the sensations and symptoms of a stress response are directly proportional to the degree of anxiety: Someone who is extremely anxious may experience dramatic sweating, for example, whereas someone who is only mildly perturbed may just be a little clammy. “Essentially, being anxious can cause an increase in perspiration that can range from scant to profuse, depending upon the degree of anxiety,” Folk says.

So what can you do to tighten the leaks?

“You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about sweating,” says Folk. “Sure, excessive sweating can be annoying and even uncomfortable. But when your body has recovered from the stress response, the excessive sweating completely disappears.”

In other words, if you want to stop sweating, stop thinking about how much you want to stop sweating. Which probably means not reading articles about how to stop sweating, either.

So get outta here!