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Swollen Tongue: A Strange Anxiety Symptom

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
Swollen Tongue: A Strange Anxiety Symptom

The symptoms of anxiety are not as predictable as most people believe. While there are certainly "traditional" symptoms of anxiety, including:

There are also numerous unusual anxiety symptoms that can cause not only inconvenience, but also health scares in those that fail to understand their symptoms.

Swollen tongue is arguably one of the most unusual anxiety symptoms you can experience, and not everyone experiences it. Many people worry that their sore tongue means something more serious - and indeed, there are many serious conditions that can cause a swollen tongue. But swollen tongue may also be caused by anxiety.

Why Would Anxiety Swell Your Tongue?

Tongue swelling is an incredibly unusual anxiety symptom. The biggest question people have with a swollen tongue is why - why would anxiety cause swollen tongue?

It likely has to do with the anxiety you experience. If you're prone to health anxiety or panic attacks, you're likely at a greater risk. 

The reality is that anxiety doesn't necessarily cause a swollen tongue per se. What anxiety causes is the _feeling _**of a swollen tongue. It causes the sensation that your tongue is numb/uncomfortable and growing in size even though it isn't actually growing.

This is part of the hypersensitization of panic disorder and health anxiety. It's caused by anxiety focusing your mind too strongly on a thought or feeling - in this case, your tongue. When your thoughts are that focused on the movements and feelings on your tongue, your tongue starts to feel different. All of the actions that were originally done subconsciously now become conscious, and your tongue starts to feel larger than it is.

When the Subconscious Becomes Conscious

It's sometimes hard to understand how something can feel "wrong" when nothing is wrong. The best thing to do is to think about how many things are going on in your body right now without you realizing it. Right now, as you read this:

Your hands are also ready to move as you type a keyboard or move a mouse, and that movement is effortless. When you chew food, your teeth go up and down and rarely do you think about your chewing or swallowing - they're under your control, but you don't think about them.

When you have anxiety, especially generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, or health anxiety, the mind has a tendency to focus on various parts of your body, making you hyper-aware of things that you didn't notice before. That makes everything feel different.

Some people find that when they focus on their breathing their regular breathing makes them feel like they aren't getting a deep breath. Other people find that their leg movements feel weak or uncoordinated when they are thinking about how their legs feel. And yes, many others find that their tongue feels larger, swollen, and hard to move, even though nothing has actually changed about it.

Health Anxiety is Hard to Comfort

Only a doctor can tell you that your swollen or sore tongue is due to anxiety, and not due to something more serious, and even then it can be hard to trust your doctor. After all, you know how you feel, and right now your swollen tongue feels too real to be perception based.

But as hard as it is to believe, it's crucial to remember that anxiety really does affect the way you feel about your body. There's a reason that many people with severe anxiety convince themselves they have a serious health problem, like multiple sclerosis - the symptoms are very similar, even though one is a serious health problem, and the other is a much more common mental health issue.

How to Stop Feeling Like Your Tongue is Swollen

If you are sure that you have anxiety and it's causing your tongue to feel like it's swollen, the only way to prevent that feeling is with a distraction. Essentially, you need to get your mind focused on something other than your tongue so that your tongue goes back to being a subconscious muscle.

That's a bit easier said than done. Many studies have shown that trying not to think about something actually increases the amount you think about it, so "try not to think about your tongue" is not helpful advice.

Ideally, do an activity that provides a valuable distraction, such as:

These activities consume many of the senses, so that it's harder for your mind to focus on just one thing.

Unfortunately, the only way to prevent the sore tongue feeling from coming back is to prevent your anxiety from coming back, and the only way to do that is to commit yourself to treating your anxiety.

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