The notion that your experience no longer reflects reality is the first domino that slowly brings down a sequence of many others, according to experts from CalmClinic:
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One of the biggest fears that people have when they suffer from anxiety is the idea that their experience actually represents a physical or medical condition, rather than just a psychological one
Anxiety leads many people to believe that they suffer from medical conditions due to the sensations they feel. One of the most common symptoms of people who are stuck in an anxiety cycle - making them overly body-conscious - is difficulty with swallowing.
How anxiety symptoms escalate to physical ailments
Step 1: Anxiety
While there are many health conditions that can make it difficult to swallow like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), those with anxiety develop a heightened awareness of their bodily functions and sensations. Otherwise automatic functions are now things that the mind hyper focuses on making them feel like unnatural reflexes.
Consequently, as food passes through the throat, the mind is focused on the sensation of food making its way down the oesophagus, thus making it feel like you might choke on your food. The moment when the body feels this sensation, it inevitably puts the person in a state of distress oftentimes culminating in an anxiety attack.
These panic attacks can become so severe that they lead people to avoid eating solid food, opting for liquid diets or opting to skip food entirely. The health ramifications can be drastic as this can lead to malnutrition, excessive weight loss, blood pressure irregularities…etc
Step 2: Pseudodysphagia
According to Verywellmind, as time passes, the anxious state that people suffering from these conditions can become so extreme they can actually be categorised as a phobia called Pseudodysphagia - The extreme fear of choking. This escalation comes with a wide list of ramifications such as:
- Social withdrawal : people will tend to avoid activities that involve eating and drinking.
- Extreme distress: the constant fear of choking, malnutrition and heightened levels of anxiety can take a toll on the nervous system and wreck the body.
- Weight loss: due to malnutrition the body quickly enters ketosis and begins tapping into its stored fat to conserve primary functions leading to quick and sometimes extreme weight loss.
It is recommended to see health professionals to rule out any possible illnesses that can lead to the difficulty in swallowing. Once there are no confirmed illnesses, the next destination should be a mental health professional to understand the underlying reasons behind the anxiety and the subsequent dysphagia. There are multiple treatments in place to assist with symptoms:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which helps with the identification of the negative thought patterns that contribute to fear
- Exposure Therapy which involves the gradual exposure to the fear with the aim of slowly decreasing the anxiety response and finally.
- Medication that can help cope with the symptoms while working though therapy.
Verywellmind: Coping With Pseudodysphagia
Calmclinic: How Anxiety Causes Trouble Swallowing