Can anxiety cause excess salivation?

  • (answering because often folks post, describing their problems, but few post when they’ve found the cure…)

    This answer is for you and all who follow — if you’re here, it’s because the problem is bugging you and you feel alone, and also hopeless.

    Neither are true.

    Apparently, swallowing-obsession is the 3rd most common autonomous awareness disorder (I see there are at least six related questions on Quora). So, welcome to the club.

    First and most important point — there is nothing wrong with you physically, and no amount of worry will cause an autonomic function to go off the rails. Want proof?

    You swallow in your sleep. 🙂

    Swallowing is automatic. It will happen without you. The proof is that it did so before you paid attention to it, and it does when you are distracted (or asleep, which you obviously do every night, even if unsoundly).

    It’s not hard to get over conscious awareness (and fear associated with awareness) of swallowing. The trick for me was to just become aware of ONE time I wasn’t thinking about swallowing. That can be a little hard since, of course, you think you’re always thinking about it. But you probably aren’t. When you have a meal, you are constantly swallowing. Yet, if you are distracted while you eat, watching something, chatting with someone, whatever, you will absolutely find you’ve missed track of at least one of your swallows.

    And if you can miss ONE of them, you can miss all of them. Because that breaks the cycle of wondering “will I always be thinking about this thing?” The answer is no. Because you stopped, even for just a short time.

    Something I learned in anxiety therapy (recommended; Kaiser Permanente has a 5 session series — and maybe find a therapist who specializes in autonomic awareness issues… the others won’t be worth much). Anxiety attacks actually only last 8 to 15 minutes. They feel never ending because they keep getting triggered. One way to break the cycle is diaphragmatic breathing.

    That’s because your anxiety-producing system, the Sympathetic Nervous System (the body’s gas pedal) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (the brakes) CANNOT operate at the same time, and diaphragmatic breathing triggers the PNS.

    Diaphragmatic breathing: Inhale through the nose for four seconds, hold for three, exhale through the mouth for seven. Repeat. Many times.

    It won’t cure you by itself, but it will reset you. Then you can think about things more rationally.

    Another must is to spend 20 minutes a day writing down all of your fears. “20 minutes!” you cry? Well, think about how much time you spend worrying now. This way, you concentrate it into one period. Put down every one of your thoughts, fears, revelations.

    Do this every day for a week. Eventually you’ll run out of things to say and you can lessen your time chronicling. But getting it down on paper gets it out of your head.

    Most importantly, know that all things pass. Including obsessive anxiety.

    Even recovery may lapse, though never permanently! Once you get over this obsession, it may come back, but never fear. That doesn’t mean you didn’t recover. It just means your self-checker is wondering if the problem is still around. Instead of worrying that you’ve backslid into some new, horrible normal (you haven’t), remember that, if you are obsessing, it means there was a period of time when you WEREN’T obsessing.

    In other words, welcome the obsession. Put it full in your mind. Laugh at it (who cares if you have an obsession.) And know it’s evidence that you were better and will, once again, be better. Better is your default state, not worry.

    By the way, folks who read this, this works with all other autonomic obsessions (which I shan’t catalog for fear that they trigger some new obsession), and probably others, too. I suspect that autonomic awareness anxieties all start with an actual trigger — perhaps you had a scratchy throat the day you heard that swallowing-awareness was a thing. Being extra aware of swallowing (since it was painful/noticeable) combined with the knowledge of the anxiety awareness, or maybe just a particularly stressful day, created a feedback loop. Now the original cause is forgotten.

    Heck — maybe you have allergies; turns out I did. Loratadine, a non-drowsy antihistamine, is great for them.

    Anyway, regardless of how it all started, the above methods will help — along with the knowledge that folks recover from these problems all the time.

    (PLEASE DON’T LOOK ME UP OR REACH OUT TO ME ABOUT THIS — this is all the advice I can impart! 🙂 Thanks for understanding.)

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