A dry mouth and other related symptoms such as a lack of saliva, bad breath, dry throat, and a dry and sticky tongue can be symptoms of anxiety. The medical term for a dry mouth is Xerostomia.
Why Can Anxiety Cause A Dry Mouth?
As with a lot of physical symptoms of anxiety, the triggers lie within our caveman brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline and activates the stress response called the fight, flight or freeze response.
The stress response can cause physical changes which lead to a dry mouth. For example, it leads to an increase in blood sugar and heart rate and suppresses your saliva to help with the suppression of your digestive system.
Also, if you experience stress and anxiety frequently, you can develop chronic stress, also known as hyperstimulation, which is when your stress response is on high alert for a prolonged period of time, long after the perceived threat has passed. Hyperstimulation can prolong the physical changes brought around by the stress response, such as saliva suppression, which can cause you to experience a chronically dry mouth.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from our fight, flight or freeze response, the main thing that we can do to combat it is to focus on our breathing, adopting anxiety-reducing breathing techniques, such as controlled diaphragmatic breathing or box breathing. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our rational brain to kick back in and regain a semblance of control and feel the black cloud lift.
Though this will help short-term, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety and stress occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety and stress. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.
A dry mouth can also be caused by lots of other factors, so talk to your doctor to find the root cause and therefore the best course of action for you.