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Can Anxiety Cause Coughing?


Although coughing can be caused for a wide range of reasons, it can also be a physical symptom of anxiety. Whilst many people suffer from anxiety, there are a huge variety of physical symptoms that affect each individual in a different way. 


For 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 these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. The stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline are released and this puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze. 


Why Does Anxiety Cause Coughing?

There are a few reasons as to why anxiety might cause individuals to cough more than usual. The first being that when our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode it prioritises certain functions and suppresses others in order for us to operate as efficiently as possible. This is fine in small doses but over time this can adversely affect our immune system, making us less effective at fighting off viruses such as colds.


Another reason is that when we’re in survival mode one of the more common symptoms is increased breathing or hyperventilation. Over time this takes a toll on our throat, making it dry and scratchy which leads to dry coughs. 


How Can I Stop This Symptom?

To help alleviate anxiety-driven coughs it helps to focus on breathing, taking in long deep breaths to counteract the hyperventilation. This will also help to calm the nervous system down and disengage the fight, flight or freeze response, allowing our immune system to operate as normal.


Of course, in order to prevent the symptoms of anxiety occurring in the first place, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. 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.