Lip biting is something that many of us do when we’re nervous, unsure or in some cases, trying to flirt. It’s one of the most common physical and behavioural symptoms of anxiety. Whether it’s chewing the inside of your lip or mouth, visibly biting the outside or unconsciously nibbling, it can be an annoying habit to have, and can cause dry, cracking lips or bleeding.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Lip Biting?
Honestly, no one seems to know. Most physical symptoms of anxiety are triggered by 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.
This doesn’t seem to be the case with lip biting. Much like biting your nails, there are lots of theories ranging from Freud’s oral fixation to a subconscious way of preventing yourself from speaking, but nothing concrete.
Instead, it appears to be a habit developed over time, like a tic, so now your body associates feeling nervous or stressed with this behaviour.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom appears to be rooted in our behaviour and habits, it’s going to take time to unlearn it. Let’s be honest, you’ve been reinforcing this habit for a while, so it’s going to take some unpicking.
Instead try breathing exercises or meditative body scans to distract your mind and anchor you to the present. Some professionals also suggest developing a competing habit such as rubbing your lip or tapping your fingers to try and replace the lip biting.
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.