Anxiety has many physical forms and they normally don’t happen in isolation. Whilst some are more common than others, any physical manifestation of anxiety can be worrying in the moment. Symptoms of anxiety tend to last around 10 minutes at a time, so if your jaw stiffness lasts longer than this, then consider visiting your doctor.
This being said, physical responses of anxiety are often triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our 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. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Jaw Stiffness?
When our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode our muscles tense and seize up. This is mostly our biggest muscles so that we can run or fight, but our smaller muscles, like those around our jaw, also tense. For short periods of time this is fine, but the longer the perceived threat lasts, the more sore our jaw muscles are going to be afterwards.
Another possibility is that you grind your teeth in your sleep, subconsciously stressed, meaning that your jaw and gums are sore when you wake up. Both of these possibilities are prevalent with those suffering with anxiety, however they can also be symptoms of other conditions, so if you’re concerned it’s always best to talk to your doctor.
What Can I Do To Stop This Symptom?
To prevent waking up with jaw stiffness, it might be worth investing in a mouth guard to help stop your grinding your teeth in the night.
If your jaw pain is more prevalent in the day, it pays to be more aware of how much you’re clenching your jaw. Try and catch yourself when you are tensing these muscles and actively try and soften them. Keep doing this until it becomes a habit.
Of course, this helps us to stop the symptoms in action, but in order to prevent the symptoms occurring, 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.