Yawning happens to all of us fairly regularly. Whether we’re bored or tired or just see someone else yawning and have the urge to yawn as well, it happens. However it has been reported that those who suffer with anxiety tend to yawn more frequently, specifically during anxious or nervous episodes.
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 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 Can Anxiety Cause Yawning?
There are quite a few reasons as to why anxiety might cause you to yawn more, the first being that when we’re in fight, flight or freeze mode our heart rate increases, as does our breathing and our muscles tend to tighten and contract. This all working together gives the impression that we can’t breathe, even though we can, so our body forces us to yawn to slow our breathing and start to level out our oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.
Another reason is that when we’re in this survival state our body is on high alert. This means that all our essential processes are running at maximum capacity, and in short bursts this is fine, but if this process starts to last longer or appear more frequently as it often does with anxiety, it can really tired out the body, causing us to yawn.
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. This should calm our central nervous system, distract our mind from the perceived threat, and deactivate our fight, flight or freeze response allowing our muscles to loosen and relax, relieving the feeling of constriction.
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.