Some people experience tightness in the throat when they are anxious. This can make someone feel as though they have a lump in their throat or that they are choking.
Sometimes, this sensation causes further anxiety, creating a vicious cycle. However, it is possible to learn techniques for relieving anxiety and relaxing the throat muscles.
In this article, we look at several methods people can try for relaxing the throat muscles during periods of anxiety.
The most direct way of relieving muscle tension in the throat is to address the anxiety that is causing it. To quickly alleviate anxiety, a person can follow the steps below to try abdominal breathing:
- Bring awareness to the breath. If hyperventilating, try purposefully exhaling, as though blowing out a candle, to slow things down.
- Next, place a hand on the belly and relax the shoulders. Breathe into the belly, fully inflating the lungs with air. Notice the hand rising as the belly expands.
- Exhale fully, allowing the belly to relax again. Notice the hand moving inward.
- Keep breathing this way, feeling the hand rising and falling with each breath.
- If helpful, people can make a soft “sss” sound as they exhale.
If anxious thoughts begin to appear, bring the focus back to the breath. Some find it helpful to notice the sensation of the air as it reaches the nose and lungs or to visualize anxiety leaving the body as they exhale.
People can continue to focus on breathing slowly and steadily until they feel better. Any muscle tension should begin to improve when they feel calmer.
If mindful breathing does not help, people can also try the following exercises:
Relaxing the tongue and larynx
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) suggest yawning while inhaling, then releasing with a sigh. This can relax the muscles in the throat.
If it is helpful, people can place a finger on the bump of cartilage in the throat known as the Adam’s apple as they practice this exercise. The Adam’s apple will drop as the throat relaxes and expands.
People can also try running the tongue over the outside of the teeth with the mouth closed or pretending that they are chewing in circular motions to relieve tension in the larynx.
Stretching the neck
Some people may feel a benefit from stretching the neck. People can do this by relaxing the shoulders and trying the following steps:
- Tilt the head forward and hold for 10 seconds. Raise it back to the center.
- Roll the head to one side and hold for 10 seconds. Bring it back to the center and repeat on the opposite side.
- Shrug the shoulders so that they almost touch the ears. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat this 5 times.
While feeling a pull or stretch is normal, people should stop stretching if there is any pain.
Singers warm up their vocal cords before performing to ease any tightness in the throat. These same techniques may also help people with tense throat muscles due to anxiety.
In addition, singing can help regulate breathing, and it gives people experiencing anxiety something to focus on.
If possible, a person can find a quiet place and try:
- singing some basic scales
- doing vocal warmup techniques
People can also sing songs that make them feel reassured, such as a song they associate with positive memories.
A small 2019 study of 33 adults from Brazil found that adults who sang in a choir had significantly lower rates of anxiety than those who did not.
If a person’s muscle tension is due to anxiety, any technique that improves anxiety is likely to help improve this symptom.
When someone is feeling anxious or panicked, they can try:
- Emotional freedom technique (EFT): This technique involves tapping various points on the body to release feelings of anxiety. In one large-scale study, researchers found that EFT improved anxiety in
90%of people, compared with 63% in those who received cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Physical movement: Some people feel physical movement helps them “burn off” nervous energy when they are anxious. People can try brisk walking, jogging, running, or aerobic exercises, such as jumping jacks.
- Mindfulness: There are many ways to perform mindfulness, including breathing exercises, meditation, and mindful activities, such as yoga, tai chi, and creative hobbies.
Anxiety is a physiological response, so it can cause many physical symptoms. Throat tension is a common anxiety symptom. People may feel as though:
- there is a tight band around the throat
- they have a lump in the throat
- their voice is tight or strained
This happens due to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. When a person feels stressed or anxious, the body prepares to confront a threat. It releases stress hormones and tenses the muscles in preparation to run or fight.
Other physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- a rapid heartbeat
- fast or shallow breathing
- fidgeting and restlessness
- feeling hot or sweating
- stomach pain or other digestive symptoms
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it is normal to feel this way occasionally during times of stress. However, if a person frequently experiences these symptoms, they may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety that interferes with a person’s day-to-day activities can be a sign a person needs support. By addressing the cause of symptoms such as throat tightness via mental health treatment, people can experience long-term improvements.
Treatment for anxiety often involves talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
Talk therapy, or psychotherapy, is the primary treatment for anxiety. There are many types of talk therapy, including:
- dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- trauma therapies, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
The type of therapy a person benefits from can vary. A person may need to try several types, or several therapists, to find a good fit.
Anxiety medications can reduce the symptoms of anxiety. However, they do not treat the underlying disorder. For this reason, a doctor may prescribe them to help improve a person’s quality of life or to help them begin therapy.
People may benefit from trying antidepressants or beta-blockers. It is important to discuss the potential benefits and side effects of these medications with a doctor to ensure it is the right choice for someone.
Diet and lifestyle
While diet and lifestyle habits do not treat anxiety itself, they can help a person to cope. The NIMH recommend:
- avoiding caffeine
- eating balanced meals
- getting regular exercise
- maintaining a healthy sleep routine, if possible
- reaching out to trusted friends or family when things are difficult
- keeping a journal
If a person still finds it difficult to relax the throat muscles when they are no longer anxious, there may be another cause for the sensation.
People who feel they have a lump in the throat may be experiencing globus pharyngeus. According to a
An ear, nose, and throat specialist can help diagnose the cause of this symptom.
If tightness in the throat persists for a long period, or a person’s anxiety symptoms are affecting their daily life, they should speak with a doctor or therapist.
Therapy is available via in-person sessions, over the phone, or over video calls. This means people can access therapy even if there are no therapists nearby or they are unable to travel.
Some people with anxiety may experience tightness or tension in their throat. Some simple mindfulness exercises may help people relax the throat muscles or reduce other symptoms of anxiety.
Relaxation can take time, however. Making a habit of practicing relaxation techniques may help a person better respond to and manage this symptom.