Ever wonder why your palms sweat when you’re nervous? You’re not alone and it’s possible to manage this symptom of stress.

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From the board room to a big date, anxiety is a very real experience in the mind and body. And sweating is a natural side effect of feeling nervous, just like shallow breathing or a racing heart.

You may find it uncomfortable, distracting, or embarrassing, but there are ways you can cope.

It’s common to sweat on your palms, face, underarms, groin area, or the soles of your feet when you’re scared.

Anxiety triggers your autonomic nervous system (ANS), also known as the fight-or-flight mode. This sends a rush of stress hormones (like cortisol) through your bloodstream, prompting several physical reactions.

“When you’re anxious, your brain sends signals down your body to prepare for disaster. Your heart races, your blood pumps, and your internal temperature rises. Thus, you start to sweat,” explains Dr. Kyle Zrenchik, a therapist in Minnetonka, Minnesota.

In some cases, people may sweat in excess. This is a condition known as hyperhidrosis, which impacts roughly 1% to 3% of people in the United States.

Yes, the sweat we excrete when we’re nervous smells more pungent than the kind that appears during physical exercise, says Saba Lurie, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.

“The human body contains millions of sweat glands. Most of these are eccrine glands, which release sweat that is primarily made up of water. On the other hand, apocrine sweat glands are the ones that are activated when we’re stressed,” she explains.

Apocrine sweat glands are larger than eccrine glands, and they are found in areas with more hair follicles (like your armpits), says Lurie.

“The sweat they excrete is thicker and contains more protein and lipids, which, in combination with the bacteria found on our skin, results in sweat that has a distinct odor.”

There are several ways to cope using stress management activities and lifestyle adjustments.

Soothing self-talk

When you’re feeling anxious, it can be helpful to intentionally speak to yourself kindly and calmly, says Lurie.

“When we do this, we’re not bypassing our negative emotions — that would be engaging in “toxic positivity” — but instead communicating to ourselves that it’s OK to experience our feelings,” she says. “We can also use soothing self-talk to communicate to ourselves that our feelings are real and that they will pass.”

This can sound like:

  • “My anxiety is valid and it will pass soon.”
  • “This sweat reaction is perfectly natural.”
  • “I’m strong and I’ll get through this.”

Refocus your attention

If possible, try to shift your attention away from your sweat.

“When we hyperfocus on the sweat, it is likely to make us nervous, which leads to even more sweating,” says Annia Palacios, a licensed professional counselor in Southlake, Texas.

“I encourage clients to focus their attention and energy toward coping with the sweat and anxious feelings, rather than trying to control them,” she adds.

Cool your hands and arms

When we’re stressed out, we often clench our fists, cross our arms, or try to hide our sweaty palms by sticking our hands in our pockets, says Palacios.

“This adds more warmth to our skin and can make us sweat even more,” she explains. “Open up your hands to let them breathe. Consider grabbing an ice cube and rubbing it on the inside of your wrists, and behind your neck, to slow down your stress response and cool your body temperature.”

Deep breathing

Research from 2018 shows that deep breathing engages your parasympathetic nervous system, also called your rest-and-digest state (the opposite of fight-or-flight). This sends a powerful signal to your body that you are safe and that the threat has passed.

“Imagine your body is a car. Anxiety is similar to pressing the gas pedal, as it speeds everything up and puts increased strain on you. Focusing on your breath is similar to slowly applying the brakes,” says Zrenchik.

“The engine still wants to accelerate the car, but the brakes force it to slow down and the engine eventually starts to slow down. Try to focus on your breath, slow down your breathing, and get yourself back to a state of calm,” he recommends.

Our article on five deep breathing techniques may help you.

Relaxation activities

Regular relaxation activities may soothe your stress response.

Some strategies include:

For some specifics, perhaps read our article on effective relaxation activities.

Lifestyle adjustments

While some stress will be inevitable in life, there are everyday steps you can take to help mitigate extra sweat.

You may find it helpful to:

  • avoid spicy foods
  • engage in regular exercise (stress relief)
  • identify your triggers to prepare ahead of time
  • shorten body hair to prevent trapped odor
  • try prescription or long-lasting deodorant
  • wear breathable clothing or an undershirt
  • work with a therapist to talk about your feelings

Sweating is a common reaction to anxiety.

There are many ways you can help soothe your nervous system, from relaxation activities to deep breathing exercises. You can also try lifestyle adjustments, like breathable clothing and long-lasting deodorant.

If your sweating is interfering with your overall quality of life, you may find it helpful to talk with a therapist.