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Can anxiety feel like lice?

Anxiety is a common mental health condition that involves excessive and persistent worry about everyday situations. It affects around 18% of adults each year. Anxiety can produce a wide range of physical symptoms, from muscle tension and headaches to nausea and sweating. Some people describe anxiety as feeling like there are bugs crawling on their skin. This has led many to wonder — can anxiety feel like lice?

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety causes both mental and physical symptoms. Common mental symptoms include:

– Excessive worrying about everyday issues
– Feeling agitated or on edge
– Difficulty concentrating
– Irritability
– Sleep problems

Anxiety also causes many physical symptoms, including:

– Muscle tension or muscle aches
– Trembling or muscle twitching
– Sweating
– Shortness of breath
– Dizziness
– Heart palpitations
– Nausea
– Headaches
– Fatigue

For some people, anxiety can produce strange physical sensations like tingling, numbness, or feeling as though something is crawling on the skin. This is known as paresthesia. It happens because anxiety overstimulates the nerves, making you extra sensitive to physical sensations.

Paresthesia from anxiety often causes tingling in the hands, feet, arms or scalp. However, some people feel crawling or itching sensations across the body. This can make them feel like there are insects on their skin, similar to head lice.

What are the symptoms of head lice?

Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that live on the scalp and feed on blood. An infestation of head lice is known as pediculosis. The main symptoms include:

– Itching around the head, neck, and ears
– Tickling feeling that something is moving in the hair
– Irritated red bumps or sores on the scalp from scratching
– Small lice or eggs (nits) in the hair that look like dandruff
– Difficulty sleeping due to the itching

Head lice cause itching and the sensation of crawling because they bite the scalp to feed on blood. Their movement through the hair also causes tickling or tingling.

So while anxiety and head lice can both make your scalp crawl, there are some clear differences:

– Anxiety causes tingling but there are no actual insects present. With head lice, you can see live lice or eggs in the hair.
– Head lice cause bumps and sores from scratching. Anxiety doesn’t directly cause sores.
– The sensation from anxiety tends to cover a larger area of the body, beyond just the scalp. With head lice it is concentrated in one spot.

Why does anxiety cause sensations like lice?

There are a few reasons why anxiety can make you feel like you have head lice, even when you don’t:


As mentioned, anxiety commonly causes strange body sensations like numbness, tingling, and itching. Doctors call these sensations paresthesia. It happens because elevated stress hormones like cortisol overstimulate the nerves. This makes you extra sensitive to slight sensations on your skin.


Anxiety also makes people more hypervigilant, meaning you focus intensely on bodily sensations. This extra awareness can make normal itches or tickles feel more prominent. Things that you may not notice otherwise can feel amplified.


If you are very anxious or scared that you have lice, this suggestion may actually make you feel itchy. The power of suggestion is strong. When we expect to feel something, we often do.

**Muscle tension**

Anxiety causes tense muscles, especially around the shoulders and neck. This muscle tension can make your scalp feel tight or itchy. Gently massaging the area can provide relief.

**Stress response**

When the body is under stress, blood flow is directed away from the skin and extremities. This can make skin feel tingly or numb. The change in circulation caused by anxiety could produce sensations similar to lice.

So in summary, anxiety doesn’t directly cause biting, itching, or rashes like a real lice infestation. But the physical effects of anxiety can resemble the crawling sensation and itching of head lice in some ways.

When to see a doctor

It’s important to recognize that anxiety causes real physical symptoms — it’s not “all in your head.” However, it’s also vital to rule out other causes before assuming symptoms are anxiety-related.

See a doctor if you experience any of the following:

– Rashes, bites, sores, or irritation on the scalp
– Visible lice or eggs in the hair
– Itching that disrupts sleep or daily life
– Itching not relieved by anti-anxiety strategies

A doctor can diagnose or rule out a lice infestation. If it’s not lice, they can investigate whether anxiety or another medical issue is causing your symptoms.

Some medical conditions like skin disorders, diabetes, or thyroid problems can also make skin crawl or itch. It’s important to rule these out as well.

How to Stop Anxiety Feeling Like Lice

If you don’t have lice but anxiety is making you feel like your skin is crawling, here are some tips to find relief:

**Identify and address anxiety triggers**

Look for patterns to specific situations, thoughts, or behaviors that seem to ramp up your anxiety. Avoiding or adapting these anxiety triggers can help reduce overall stress levels.

**Practice relaxation techniques**

Methods like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can activate the body’s relaxation response to lower anxiety. Try to practice daily.

**Exercise regularly**

Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day of aerobic exercise like brisk walking.

**Get enough sleep**

Not getting enough sleep can significantly worsen anxiety levels. Stick to a regular sleep schedule and aim for 7-9 hours per night.

**Avoid smoking and excess caffeine**

Nicotine and caffeine over-stimulate the body, making anxiety symptoms feel even worse.

**See a therapist**

Speaking to a therapist can help you get to the roots of your anxiety and learn healthier thought patterns. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often most effective for anxiety.

**Consider medications**

If anxiety is severe, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety meds like SSRI antidepressants or benzodiazepines on a short-term basis.

**Use calming essential oils**

Some essential oils like lavender oil have natural anti-anxiety benefits. Put a few drops on your wrists, neck, or temples when feeling anxious.

**Try calming supplements**

Supplements like chamomile, magnesium, and L-theanine may help take the edge off anxiety. Ask your doctor for personalized supplement recommendations.

With the right mix of lifestyle changes and professional treatment, you can reduce anxiety and related physical symptoms like the feeling of insects crawling on your skin. Be patient with yourself as you explore different relief strategies.

When to see a mental health professional

It’s a good idea to seek counseling for anxiety if:

– It disrupts your daily routine or relationships
– Symptoms last 6 months or longer
– You struggle with panic attacks
– You have suicidal thoughts
– You use drugs, alcohol or risky behaviors to cope
– Other mental health conditions are also present like depression

A licensed therapist or psychologist can provide anxiety treatment including CBT and exposure therapy to address thought and behavior patterns making anxiety worse. Seeing a psychiatrist may also be helpful for prescribing anti-anxiety medications in more severe cases.

Don’t struggle alone. Anxiety is highly treatable with professional support and lifestyle changes. You can overcome this and regain peace of mind.


In summary, anxiety does not directly cause the biting and itching of a real lice infestation. However, anxiety can sometimes feel like lice due to symptoms like:

– Tingling skin or scalp caused by paresthesia
– Muscle tension in neck and shoulders
– Hypervigilance to normal bodily sensations
– The power of suggestion if already anxious about lice

While anxiety may feel like lice at times, important differences remain. Make sure to see a doctor if you have any rashes, visible lice, or persistent itching that disrupts sleep. Ongoing itching and skin crawling could potentially indicate other medical conditions.

Don’t assume itchy skin is “just anxiety” without ruling out other causes first. But if anxiety is the cause, techniques like CBT, meditation, exercise, sleep hygiene and medication can all help lower anxiety and related physical symptoms. With the right treatment plan, you can find relief from the feeling of lice or bugs crawling on your skin.