Updated: May 8, 2020
This is the first in a series of articles containing tips to care for your mental health and well-being. When practised regularly they will help you to avoid anxiety and promote good mental health.
The tongue and anxiety
The nerves on the tip of the tongue are directly connected to the brain stem, which is a crucial hub that directs basic bodily processes. The tongue and the brain communicate all the time and we can use this to our advantage in warding off anxiety.
Have you noticed that during periods of anxiety and stress, your mouth and tongue are dry? This is because anxiety and stress can affect the salivary glands causing a dry mouth. When the tongue and brain communicate, a dry mouth confirms to the brain that it needs to stay alert and respond to stress. (See below for information on the stress response better known as fight or flight).
But what if the mouth was not dry, what would happen? When the tongue and brain communicate, if the mouth was moist, it would confirm to the brain there is no need to be alert. This means that by deliberately keeping your mouth hydrated at all times, it will send the signal to your brain to confirm everything is okay and that no stress response is required. This means the brain will not initiate the stress response due to a dry mouth. We can lead the brain into thinking everything is okay in the mouth and begin to control how we feel.
Dehydration contributes to anxiety and nervousness. It has been linked to a rise in cortisol levels, the hormones that increase stress. So stay one step ahead of your brain and always stay hydrated. It is an easy thing you can do to help yourself and control your mental health. Benefits of drinking water can be found here.
Fight or flight - the stress response
The body has a protection system which has not yet evolved and so acts in the same way it did thousands of years ago. When it senses danger, it triggers a stress response which is intended to keep you alive. The type of danger was generally from animals or other humans and so required physical action. Just imagine being chased by a sabre tooth tiger, or being attacked by a member of your tribe; running or fighting would be the only way to survive. For that reason, this response is often called the ‘fight or flight’ response.
This response is carried out by the subconscious part of your brain also known as the unconscious. The subconscious mind works much faster than the conscious mind, it is approximately 1 million times more powerful. The subconscious part of your brain reacts immediately in this situation because its purpose is to keep you alive.
When your protection system senses a threat, it triggers a series of reactions in your body that ultimately create and pump adrenaline around your body. This prepares you for the immediate action of fighting or fleeing the situation. The adrenaline causes a change in body temperature and blood pressure. Blood is diverted away from parts of the body such as digestion and frontal lobes and towards the arms and legs. There is no need for the digestive system to work hence the dry mouth, or for the brain to think logically at that exact moment because all the body cares about is enabling you to fight or run away. It just needs your arms and legs to work.
If the stress response is triggered by a real physical threat then the action of running or fighting would utilise the adrenaline. In today’s society, the threat is usually perceived and not physical. This means the adrenaline and other chemicals created by the body are not used up. The effects of adrenaline running through the system include dry mouth, funny tummy, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, sweating and palpitations.
A more details explanation of the stress response can be found here.