Stony Brook Medicine Health News

Is It Possible for Anxiety to Cause Tics? 

It’s perfectly normal to be concerned about tics, or involuntary repetitive motions, in yourself or your child. While “anxiety tics” is not a medical term and anxiety itself does not cause tics, tics can certainly worsen in times of increased stress. Tics can be a way for your body to release tension. 

Tics worsened by anxiety can improve over time, when your stressors improve. Understanding what tics can look like and how to manage them will help to put your mind at ease. 

How Does Anxiety Impact Tics?

Tics are involuntary movements or sounds that can worsen in response to heightened stress or anxiety. During times of stress, different hormone levels in the body increase. An increase in tics may offer a temporary release and serve as a coping mechanism.  

Tics look different for everyone, but may include repetitive:

  • Blinking or eye movements
  • Nose scrunching
  • Sniffing
  • Facial grimacing 
  • Shoulder shrugging
  • Hand motions
  • Arm extensions 
  • Leg shaking
  • Throat clearing or grunting
  • Humming or throat noises

Tics that increase with anxiety will generally improve when you’re feeling less stress. When tics become more intense and persistent over time, speaking with a healthcare professional is recommended. 

What Triggers Them?

Tics can sometimes intensify when you’re dealing with stressful or uncomfortable situations. People with an underlying anxiety disorder may experience worsened tics. Fatigue, lack of sleep, and overstimulation may also exacerbate tics.

Are “Anxiety Tics” Normal?

It’s not uncommon to experience worsened tics during times of stress. While a short-term increase in tics can be an expected response to stress, persistent or severe tics warrant attention from healthcare professionals.

Tics are relatively common in children, occurring in about 15% of school-aged children. Persistent tic disorders are less common, affecting approximately one in fifty children.  

Treating and Managing Tics

Improving tics can involve practicing stress management and getting support to overcome stressful situations. Relaxation methods such as deep breathing, spending time outdoors, gentle yoga or stretching, adequate rest, and quiet time may help to relieve tension.

For more strategies for managing tics, getting advice from a healthcare professional can be beneficial. This may include a mental health professional or a doctor specializing in neurology, or brain health. In some cases, medications may be prescribed to address your tics. 

When you experience multiple tics occurring for more than a year, speaking to a neurology expert who specializes in tics is recommended. 

  • Carine W. Maurer, MD, PhD
    Clinical Assistant Professor
    Department of Neurology
    Renaissance School of Medicine

    Dr. Maurer is a neurologist with subspecialty training in movement disorders. She is an expert in the examination and treatment of movement disorders including Parkinson’s disease (PD), Tourette’s syndrome, and functional neurological disorder (FND). Dr. Maurer’s research interests include the non-motor features of PD and other movement disorders, as well as the pathophysiology of FND.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.