Paresthesia (a tingling, numbness, skin crawling, or itching feeling) is one of the physical symptoms that can occur with anxiety and panic attacks. It can be experienced in the hands, feet, arms, legs, face, lips, or tongue.
Tongue tingling may be part of burning mouth syndrome (BMS), a condition that causes discomfort in the mouth, lips, or tongue. BMS can be brought on by a number of factors, including anxiety.
Because the tongue is made up of muscle and nerves, it is affected by the stress response. When triggered by stress or anxiety, the stress response can cause muscles to tense, tighten, twitch, or spasm. It can also change how the nerves respond to sensations and stimuli.
Tongue tingling and other mouth symptoms can be caused by underlying health conditions as well, so it's important to find the cause of the symptoms. Read on to learn how anxiety affects the tongue and mouth.
What Does a Tingling Tongue Feel Like?
"Tingling" is somewhat of a vague term. Oral paresthesia can also feel like:
- A burning sensation in the tongue or mouth
- Pins-and-needles sensation
- Sensations of the tongue being stretched
- A creeping-crawling feeling
- Twitching, jumping, vibrating, or a tremor
- Aching or hurting
- A swollen or larger than normal tongue when not actually swollen
The sensation can range in from mild to severe, come in waves, and can affect one part or the whole tongue. A person may notice the symptom more when going to sleep or when first waking.
Other Ways Anxiety May Affect Your Tongue
Anxiety can also cause other mouth and tongue symptoms, including the following.
Numbness is one way paresthesia can manifest. It can happen on its own, or alternate with other sensations such as tingling, burning, or stinging.
Pushing Your Tongue Against Your Teeth
High levels of anxiety can cause stress-induced habits in the mouth such as jaw clenching, teeth grinding, and pressing the tongue against the teeth.
Chewing Your Tongue
Regularly chewing the tongue or inside of the cheek is a habit that can develop in response to increased stress levels and may be a sign of an underlying problem such as an anxiety disorder. If it continues, the tongue or cheek tissue could become damaged.
Biting in Sleep
Stress and anxiety are a common cause of bruxism (teeth grinding). Teeth grinding is particularly common in children and teenagers, especially during sleep. It often stops once they reach adulthood, but some adults also grind their teeth.
Habits such as pressing the tongue against the teeth and teeth grinding can lead to scalloped tongue.
The main symptom of scalloped tongue is distinct wavy edges on the tongue that resemble the edges of a pie crust.
Treatment for tongue tingling that is due to anxiety typically means treating the anxiety directly. This usually involves psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Stress management techniques may also help.
Forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) that may be used to treat anxiety include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This helps recognize problematic thought processes and behaviors and uses a series of exercises to change them into more adaptive ones.
- Exposure therapy: This is a method of CBT used to treat anxiety disorders, including phobias. It involves confronting the triggers of the anxiety and engaging with instead of avoiding them. Sometimes used with relaxation exercises.
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): This is a newer therapy that uses strategies such as mindfulness and goal setting.
Medication that be used to help manage anxiety symptoms include:
Stress Management Techniques
Breathing exercises may help manage stress, especially if performed regularly. Several techniques exist, but here are two to try.
Breathing Technique: Deep Breathing
- Get comfortable either standing up, sitting in a chair that supports your back, or lying down.
- If sitting, bend your knees with your feet flat on the floor and place your arms on the armrests. If lying down, place hands palms up, a little bit away from your sides. Feet should be about hip width apart in both positions.
- Breathe in through your nose, letting your breath flow deep down into your belly. (Don't force it; only breathe in as deeply as is comfortable.)
- Without pausing, gently breathe out through your mouth. (Some people find it helpful to breathe in for a count of five and out for a count of five, but do what feels right for you.)
- Keep breathing in and out for three to five minutes.
Breathing Technique: Belly Breathing
- Sit in a chair, leaning forward with your elbows on your knees.
- Breathe naturally. (This position forces you to breathe from your belly and helps you learn what it feels like.)
- Sit normally and place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
- Breathe in and out, feeling your belly inflate and deflate while the hand on your chest stays still.
- Whenever you feel stressed, take three slow and controlled deep belly breaths.
- Use belly breathing regularly throughout the day, such as once an hour or up to 10 to 15 times a day.
When to Seek Medical Care
Even if you suspect anxiety is the cause of your tingling tongue, you should still see your healthcare provider to get a proper diagnosis and rule out other factors or conditions. A tingling tongue can also be caused by:
In addition to professional treatment, there are some measures you can take to help manage anxiety symptoms such as tongue tingling. These include:
- Take time to relax, and take a step back to clear your head if you need to.
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Count slowly to 10 (or 20, if you need it).
- Eat regular, nutritious meals.
- Get enough quality sleep.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Get regular physical exercise.
- Keep your stress/stressors in perspective and accept that you can't control everything.
- Keep a journal of your stress triggers and look for a pattern.
- Try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Go easy on yourself. (Try your best but don't try to be perfect.)
- Find and engage in humor.
- Get involved in your community through volunteering, taking a class, or joining a club.
- Connect with friends or family members and talk to them about how you're feeling.
Oral symptoms such as tongue tingling can result from anxiety or stress.
Tongue tingling and associated symptoms can be a sign of other health conditions, too, so it's important to see a healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis.
Treatment for tongue tingling that is due to anxiety involves treating the anxiety itself. This is typically done through psychotherapy (such as CBT or ACT), medications (such as SSRIs or SNRIs), or a combination of both.
Stress management techniques can also be used to help manage anxiety symptoms.
A Word From Verywell
If you find your tongue feels strange when you are worried or stressed, you may be experiencing a physical symptom of anxiety. Talk to your healthcare provider about your tongue tingling or any other oral symptoms to get a proper diagnosis and put together a treatment plan.
Frequently Asked Questions
When should I be concerned about a tingling tongue?
You should see a healthcare provider if you have a tingling tongue to determine its cause. This is especially important if:
- It lasts for several days without improvement.
- Symptoms and sensations have no obvious explanation.
- The sensation spreads, or it becomes a recurring issue.
- It leads to more symptoms or other health problems.
- It is affecting your functioning, such as eating, drinking, or talking.
Call 911 if:
- You or someone you are with is showing signs of a stroke (a stroke can cause weakness in the tongue or affect the control of the tongue).
- The tongue is swelling or there are other signs of an anaphylactic reaction.
- You think it's an emergency.
Will tingling in the tongue go away on its own?
If the tongue tingling is due to anxiety, it may come and go. The best way to manage anxiety symptoms such as tongue tingling is to treat the anxiety itself.
What are some things that can cause anxiety?
Anxiety causes and triggers vary by person, but some common ones include:
- Family history of mental health conditions
- Certain personality traits
- Physical health problems (such as a thyroid condition)
- Ongoing stressful events, such as work stress or relationship problems
- Other mental health conditions
- Substance use
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