Pins and needles fall under the category of Paresthesia, which describes an abnormal sensation of the skin. Other examples of Paresthesia include numbness, burning, chilling, swelling, prickling or tingling. Oral Paresthesia is when you experience any of these sensations in your tongue, lips, gums, throat, palate, teeth or entire mouth and can be a symptom of anxiety and chronic stress.
Why Can Anxiety Cause Pins And Needles In The Tongue?
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 tongue is primarily made up of muscle and the stress response can affect how the body’s muscles act, causing them to tighten, tense, spasm or twitch. Nerve cells also make up parts of the tongue, and stress can cause nerve cells to misreport sensations to the brain as well as cause the brain to misinterpret messages, leading you to experience odd sensations in the mouth. The tongue is also made up of blood vessels, and as stress can cause blood flow to be restricted or increased, this can cause strange sensations in the tongue such as numbness.
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 also cause odd sensations in your tongue or mouth for some of the reasons previously mentioned.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
As this symptom stems from a stress response or chronic stress, 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 manage anxiety and chronic stress long-term, 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. Oral Paresthesia can also be caused by other factors, so check with your doctor to find the root cause and therefore the best course of action.