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Path to Dysphagia Diagnosis
  • Writer's pictureCarinda Stout, MS CCC/SLP

Anxiety Can Cause Difficulty Swallowing

One of the biggest fears that people have when they suffer from anxiety is that their anxiety symptoms are not anxiety symptoms at all. They worry that they may have a health problem that may not have been discovered yet, and that doctors have been misdiagnosing them with anxiety for years. That's a big problem for those suffering from anxiety, because when you're worried that you have something more than anxiety, you'll find that your anxiety increases every day. You become more attuned to your body, and you start to worry more about your health, increasing your risk for anxiety attacks. This is a common problem of those that have difficulty swallowing.

There are some illnesses and diseases that make it hard to swallow. But difficulty swallowing is a common anxiety symptom, especially during anxiety attacks. It's important to note that trouble swallowing may be a sign of other disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease. While these disorders don't cause anxiety on their own, those with anxiety often find that these disorders contribute to further anxiety.

Trouble swallowing is a frightening anxiety symptom, and one that doesn't make much sense to those that struggle with it.

Why would nervousness make it hard to swallow? Yet there are several reasons that trouble swallowing occurs, and they all relate to a common problem for those with anxiety - over-sensitivity to their body. Most of what your body does is automatic. You breathe without thinking about it. Your hand grasps things without thinking about each finger. And you also swallow automatically, without moving the muscles in your throat yourself. But when you struggle with anxiety - particularly anxiety attacks - your mind focuses too much on things that used to be automatic, and forces them into your consciousness. You still have the ability to swallow, but when you swallow it no longer feels like a natural reflex, because your mind is too focused on how it feels.

Similarly, when you have anxiety, you may not have trouble swallowing at all. You may simply not need to swallow but feel you need to swallow and become more aware when you're unable to get your muscles to work properly. Something has to trigger the swallowing reflex. If you feel that you need to swallow when you don't, and you try to swallow, you may simply be unable to despite nothing being wrong. Yet when you have anxiety, it can feel as though something is wrong. To those with anxiety, the difference between being unable to swallow and simply not swallowing is very slim, and the fear that develops is very real. Also, don't forget that your body is very tense when you're suffering from anxiety, and this may cause problems with the swallowing reflex as well.

Difficulty swallowing is a symptom of suffering from anxiety, so on its own it is difficult to stop without some type of intervention. You'll need to find a way to stop experiencing panic attack and anxiety symptoms overall if you want to swallow more easily, and that means that you'll need to control your anxiety in a way that won't allow it to come back. First, always visit your doctor. While trouble swallowing is very often an anxiety symptom, you'll want to be sure that you're not suffering from acid reflux or any of the other disorders that can contribute to the issue. Those types of disorders can be treated separately, and knowing that you do or don't have them is an important part of controlling anxiety. You'll then need to commit to an effective anxiety reduction platform. One based on your anxiety symptoms so that you will be able to experience less overall anxiety.

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