When you’re feeling anxious, you may realize that your throat hurts. You might also feel tightness, a lump in your throat, or have trouble swallowing.
While we may think of anxiety as an emotional or mental health issue, it can actually affect your body in a variety of ways. A sore throat is just one of many potential physical symptoms.
Let’s take a closer look at how anxiety can affect your throat, tips to prevent it from happening, and when you may want to see a doctor.
When you’re under stress or feeling anxious, your body reacts by releasing adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. In addition to increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, the release of these hormones can lead to a variety of physical responses, such as:
- rapid, shallow breathing
- breathing through your mouth
- anxious coughing
- muscle tension
This, in turn, can lead to:
When you’re feeling tense or anxious, the stress hormones in your body may also cause the following types of throat issues:
Muscle tension dysphonia
Muscle tension dysphonia is a coordination problem involving muscles and breathing patterns associated with your voice. When you’re stressed, muscles that control your voice box can tense up. This can cause hoarseness, a voice that cracks, or the need to strain your voice to be heard.
Dysphagia is a swallowing disorder that can be exacerbated by anxiety. A recent prospective, multicenter
If you have a lump in your throat, but there’s nothing actually there, that’s called globus sensation. It’s usually not painful, but it can get worse with anxiety and stress.
Research shows that stressful life events often precede the onset of symptoms. Some studies have found that up to 96 percent of patients with globus sensation reported worsening symptoms during highly emotional periods.
Other contributing factors
If you happen to have a condition that affects your throat, such as allergies, tonsillitis, the common cold, acid reflux, or GERD, anxiety can make your sore throat and other throat symptoms worse.
If your sore throat is due to anxiety, it’s likely going to ramp up when you feel intense emotional stress. As you transition to a calmer state, your sore or tight throat will likely start to ease.
Here are some other signs that your sore throat may be due to anxiety:
- breathing through your mouth
- tense muscles
- anxious coughing
Your sore throat may not be anxiety-related if it continues to be sore once you feel calmer. Also, it may not be due to anxiety if you have symptoms such as:
In moments of high stress, there are steps you can take to calm your anxiety:
- Focus on breathing slowly and deeply. Breathe in through your nose and allow your lungs to fill completely. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. You can do this anywhere at any time. If possible, it may help to find a quiet, comfortable place to sit and close your eyes while you breathe deeply.
- Take a walk. Get outside and take a walk, paying attention to your stride and your surroundings rather than the things that make you anxious.
- Listen to or play music. Let your favorite music or soundtrack take you away. Or spend a few minutes playing a musical instrument.
- Focus on a favorite activity. Distract yourself by playing a game, doing a puzzle, reading, watching something that makes you laugh, or indulging in your favorite hobby.
- Talk to a friend. Reach out to a friend or family member. If you can’t talk to them in person, call or message them.
- If too many things are coming at you at once, unplug. Carve out some quiet time by turning off your phone and other gadgets. Even 15 minutes of quiet time may be enough to help you destress and feel calmer.
- Journal your thoughts. During times of stress or anxiety, writing may help you sort through your emotions.
In the longer term, there are some lifestyle tweaks that may help you manage and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress:
- Get regular exercise. This doesn’t mean training for a marathon or powerlifting at the gym. Even a brisk 10-minute walk, some simple stretches, or a short session of yoga can help calm your stressed nerves.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Try to avoid using food for comfort. Limit your intake of sugary, fatty foods, and focus on healthy foods that can fuel you with the nutrients your body needs.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Drinking alcohol or smoking a cigarette may calm you at first, but your feelings of anxiety may return with a vengeance once the effect has worn off. Becoming dependent on alcohol or tobacco can add to your stress and anxiety.
- Cut back on caffeine. High doses of caffeine can increase your anxiety and even leave you feeling jittery. If you feel anxious after drinking coffee, tea, or energy drinks, consider cutting back or opting for decaffeinated beverages.
- Make sure you’re getting adequate sleep. A lack of sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Try to create a relaxing bedtime routine, switch off devices and electronics at least an hour before bed, and keep your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
- Learn to meditate. The goal of meditation is to replace chaotic thoughts in your mind with a sense of calm by focusing on the present moment.
Researchhas shown that it’s a highly effective tool for stress reduction.
- Try breathing exercises. Doing specific breathing exercises can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with anxiety and stress.
- Visualize your happy place. Painting a picture in your mind of a place that makes you feel relaxed and happy may help calm your brain and body.
- Maintain social connections.
Researchhas shown that having good social support can help get you through stressful times and lower your risk of anxiety.
It’ll likely take practice, but you may be able to stop a sore throat from developing. Here are some pointers to keep in mind at the first sign of anxiety:
- Are you breathing through your mouth? Try to control your breathing by taking long, deep breaths in through your nose and out your mouth.
- Is your mouth dry? Have a cup of decaffeinated tea or a glass of water. Or try gargling with warm salt water.
- Are your muscles tight? Try deep-breathing exercises, stretches, meditation, or yoga to quiet your mind and calm your body.
- Do you have an anxious cough? Try a soothing cough drop or a spoonful of honey in a glass of warm water.
Occasional anxiety due to stress isn’t unusual and doesn’t require a visit to your doctor, especially if you don’t have other symptoms.
However, do see your doctor if:
- You frequently feel overly stressed or think you’re having anxiety attacks.
- Anxiety is interfering with your ability to function or go about your daily life.
- You have physical symptoms that concern you.
Remember, it’s possible to have anxiety and a sore throat that’s caused by something else. If you’re concerned about your sore throat and think it may be due to a condition other than anxiety, it’s worth getting a diagnosis so you can start any necessary treatment.
Anxiety can cause many physical symptoms, including a sore throat. When you feel anxious, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol. Besides causing your heart rate and blood pressure to increase, these hormones can also cause you to take rapid, shallow breaths through your mouth. Your muscles can also tense up. This can lead to a sore or tight throat.
Your sore throat may not be anxiety-related if it continues to be sore once you feel calmer. Also, it may not be due to anxiety if you have other symptoms like nasal congestion, fever, a cough, body aches, or swollen tonsils.
If you have any concerns about your anxiety or believe that your sore throat could be due to something else entirely, see your doctor. Anxiety and symptoms of anxiety can be treated and effectively managed.