You’ve noticed some strange things happening with your tongue. First it seemed to feel swollen, then it suddenly started twitching. Where’s this coming from and why is it happening?
If your tongue feels weird, anxiety could be the cause. It may sound strange, but your tongue symptoms and anxiety could be related. Here we’ll review a common reason you may have a tingly or twitchy tongue when you feel anxious, some other odd tongue sensations you might notice, and what you can do about it.
Can Anxiety Really Affect Your Tongue?
Definitely. Anxiety can cause physical reactions all over your body. Your tongue is a matrix of muscles with lots of nerve endings and taste buds. It’s a sensitive organ built to taste, touch, and move with precision.
Think of all the ways your tongue has to respond in daily life. Every time you speak, swallow, cough, yell, or sing, your tongue reacts differently. When you think of it like this, it’s not surprising that your tongue would have a noticeable reaction when you feel anxious.
How Could Anxiety Cause a Twitching Tongue?
Anxiety can cause twitching or tingling in your tongue for two main reasons. Both are related to breathing in distinct ways, and we’ll review each of them here.
Hyperventilation and low carbon dioxide
Tingling and twitching sensations in the tongue can be caused by hyperventilation, a common symptom of anxiety and panic attacks. Hyperventilation happens when a person overbreathes and exhales too much carbon dioxide. This causes a chain reaction that throws off the balance of chemicals in the body.
When carbon dioxide levels drop in the bloodstream, calcium levels drop, too. This change can cause muscles to become more excitable than usual. In other words, your muscles are more irritable and likely to twitch or feel tingly. You’re most likely to feel this sensation in your fingers, toes, and around your mouth.
So if you’re feeling tongue spasms, anxiety and stress are probably at the root of it. If you’re breathing too quickly or taking shallow breaths, you may be hyperventilating. This is common with anxiety, and it’s easy to hyperventilate without realizing it.
Hyperventilation and oxygen in the bloodstream
Hyperventilation can cause a narrowing of blood vessels to your brain, sending slightly less oxygen to your extremities. This restricted blood flow can make you feel dizzy and lightheaded. It can also cause some tingling or numbness in your fingertips.
The lower levels of carbon dioxide affect the pH balance of your blood, making it less acidic and more basic. This shift makes it more difficult for oxygen to get to cells efficiently. So even though your blood has plenty of oxygen, constricted vessels and a different pH balance can cause several tongue symptoms.
What Does a Tingling or Twitching Tongue Feel Like?
Here are a few ways you may notice a tingling or twitching tongue during periods of anxiety.
Numb tongue - Anxiety may cause the nerves in and around your tongue to become irritated. This can block the usual flow of signals moving between the nerve cells. The lack of nerve communication causes an abnormal sensation called paresthesia. You may know this as the “pins and needles” feeling. A paresthesia is a temporary loss of sensation, which you might feel as tingling or possibly numbness.
Pushing tongue against teeth - Anxiety can cause the nervous system to become overactive. This can lead to jittery or tense muscles all over your body. You may not even realize that you’re pushing your tongue against your teeth. When you become mindful of your muscle tension, you may notice this pressure more often.
Chewing tongue - Anxiety can trigger many nervous habits you may be unaware of. One of these is chewing on your tongue, which can happen during both day and nighttime hours. When this habit becomes established, it may be hard to stop. A mouth guard and relaxation training can reduce this problem.
Biting tongue in sleep - Anxiety and muscle tension can cause bruxism, another word for teeth grinding. Bruxism can affect the tongue and cheeks as well. When a person has increased muscle tension from stress, it can show up as teeth grinding. This can cause damage to the entire mouth area over time.
Scalloped tongue - Anxiety and stress can cause inflammation all across the body. Inflammation of the tongue, known as glossitis, enlarges the tongue enough to rub and push against the back of a person’s teeth. This may cause the tongue to have a wavy or scalloped appearance over time.
How to Stop Your Tongue from Twitching or Tingling from Anxiety
A twitching or tingling tongue is a sign of a larger underlying problem. If anxiety is at the root of these odd sensations, you have many options for addressing them. You may want to consult your healthcare provider to rule out anything more serious. But the following is a list of ways you can safely reduce your stress and anxiety, lessening the impact on your tongue and mouth.
Treat the underlying anxiety
Talk therapy - Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in adults and children. You may benefit from a short period of talk therapy. Or join a support group to get support and learn how others address triggers and symptoms.
Anxiety medication - You may find that medication helps you manage your symptoms as well. Many people handle their anxiety without medication, but it can be another support.
Learn how to break the hyperventilation cycle
Hyperventilation is common for people with panic attacks and other anxiety conditions. The perception of not having enough oxygen causes a person to keep breathing faster. This cycle can get out of control quickly, so learning how to stop it before it escalates is critical. Breaking the cycle of hyperventilation can prevent or reduce the tingling sensations you may feel.
Get better quality sleep
Poor sleep makes it easier for you to be affected by stress and anxiety. Find ways to calm your mind and body before bed to ensure that you have time to get the rest you need.
Dehydration can lead to twitching muscles. Restlessness can make it harder to feel calm during the day and sleep well at night. Drink plenty of water to keep your muscles more relaxed.
Understanding anxiety and tongue symptoms
A tingly tongue may not be the first thing you imagine when you think of anxiety. But as you can see, the connection is definitely there. It’s not life-threatening and can be managed, but it’s a clear sign that your nervous system is fired up from anxiety. With some simple habit changes and mindfulness, you can learn how to relax your mind, body, and your tongue.