Body Language of Sweating – A Stressor You Can’t Sweat Out
Research by Katharina Gross of the University of Trier and her associates has examined individuals with hyperhidrosis (an abnormal increase in sweating) and their levels of stress. They found that these individuals undergo more stressful situations (or at least rate them as such) in their life, and specifically, they feel higher levels stress when in social situations.
The higher stress they feel in social situations makes them sweat considerably more, and this abnormal sweating contributes to their already heightened feelings of stress, thereby creating a vicious cycle of stress and sweating.
“Many people consider sweat as an indication for lacking hygiene and refuse persons who sweat excessively, resulting in the lack of social recognition found in our study,” the researchers explain.
In this study, participants were individuals suffering from excessive sweating on their armpits, hands or feet, and there was also a control condition consisting of healthy subjects who did not sweat excessively. Participants provided saliva samples, and filled out the Trier Inventory of Chronic Stress, the Beck Depression Inventory, as well as the Screening for Somatoform Disorders to look into the relationship between hyperhidrosis and stress and the potential of any depressive or somatic symptoms.
The researchers found that in individuals with hyperhidrosis, there was a lack of social recognition and also greater depressive symptoms. Social situations resulted in higher stress levels for individuals with hyperhidrosis, contributing to the detrimental cycle mentioned earlier.
As for the increase in depressive symptoms found amongst individuals with hyperhidrosis, the researchers speculate this could be a result of an overall lack of self-confidence mixed with feelings of shame.
“The majority of the excessively sweating subjects of our sample reported the onset of their hyperhidrosis in childhood or puberty. These important stages of life are very sensitive for changes and disturbances of the developmental processes of self-esteem and identity,” the researchers postulate.
There is a lot to say about nonverbal behaviour in terms of its relation to feelings of anxiety or stress. As mentioned, excess sweating can be a condition present in additional stress. So if you notice someone sweating through multiple layers of clothing, see what you can do to help relieve some of their stress rather than add to it.
Sweat doesn’t mean someone is unhygienic; it can very well be an individual’s response to stress or feelings of anxiety! Nevertheless, when seeing someone sweating profusely, one can reliably determine that they are undergoing high levels of stress and in extreme cases, this results in heightened stress through a positive feedback loop.
About the Author: Jenny Galvao is an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph studying psychology.
Gross KM, Schote AB, Schneider KK, Schulz A, Meyer J. Elevated Social Stress Levels and Depressive Symptoms in Primary Hyperhidrosis. 2014. PLoS ONE 9(3): e92412. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092412.