Most people eat naturally and never think about what to do to swallow. They put the food in their mouth and swallow it.
However, the normal swallowing process can be affected by certain factors, such as experiencing a drowning episode, increased muscle tension in the throat area, sores, canker sores, fungi located in the throat area, posterior region of the throat, etc. .
Throughout life, we will all experience an episode of drowning with varying degrees of discomfort. Different textures, fatigue, out of rhythm laughter when swallowing, or even fright can be some of the causes.
Depending on the tendency to perceive the dangers and the objective seriousness of the episode, the fear that food will be stuck in the throat can settle in the head, and even be able to die in this way. It should be added that this fear can become very intense, even without having experienced an episode of this nature in the first person. Sometimes it is enough to witness it because the fear reaches the degree of phagophobia.
The fear of drowning: when is it dangerous to swallow?
It is important to understand that the swallowing process is very emotional for a purely survival issue. The brain wants to make sure that if there is a food in bad condition, or with an inappropriate taste or texture, we can get rid of it as quickly as possible.
This way, if we don’t like something, rejection responses are rushed because i haven’t had anything wrong inside my body. The easiest way to do this is to induce nausea and block the passage to food in the throat. The glottis is blocked by increased muscle tension and spasm-like responses. So, not passing up food in certain situations is the way to deal with your own survival instinct.
Voluntary or automatic responses of the body
There are countless automatic responses that the body regulates on its own that we normally don’t have to deal with. Among these we can mention the dilation of the pupil, sweating or the heart response. There are some who they can be set automatically but in which we can also take control whenever we choose. Among them are the respiratory rhythm, the relaxation of the different sphincters and of course the swallowing of food.
The main brain area responsible for automatisms is the brainstem and the cerebellum. When we take voluntary control, the brain itself is in charge of coordination. This change gives us the opportunity to address more aspects and needs but is very relevant to understanding how in phagophobia the swallowing process is complicated.
When the brain takes over the act of swallowing, responses that are normally synchronized on their own must be coordinated, And in the moments when there is also a deep fear, it makes us more clumsy and suddenly nothing flows when swallowing. In situations like this, we give each other conflicting instructions. Some say “swallow” and others say “take care”. Normally, the greater the feeling of danger, the more you avoid carrying food to the back of your mouth. We try to penetrate the food, but from the area of the incisors.
He threatens to drown and draw attention to a weakness
The realization that something normal like swallowing cannot be done as usual changes the person and that only further complicates the negative feeling. When this is added the fear of drawing attention in social environments for something that one does not want to show, this tends to make the experience of the problem worse and makes it more likely to become a blocking fear.
Greater sensitivity to the opinions of others makes it more necessary to want to make sure that everything is going well and that nothing will happen. Sometimes this fact will make us want to eat more slowly or we won’t want to stay with other people so as not to show that we have difficulty or weakness. Therefore, when fear grows, it is easy for difficulty swallowing to do the same.
Solutions and treatment
To treat phagophobia, psychologists help the person identify the emotional variables that prevent them from swallowing normally. We favor the simplification of the swallowing processInitially, by letting the brain take over, and as the blockage is reduced, we improve the fact that the cerebellum resumes this action.
Like any psychotherapeutic treatment, it requires repetition and involvement. Depending on the intensity of the fears and the person’s ability to collaborate with the directives, an improvement is observed from the fourth session, being necessary between 10 and 30 sessions to obtain a lasting improvement over time. It is not the same to work with a person who usually has no fears, as it is to work with someone who can barely manage and who is usually focused on moving away from whatever they consider to be. dangerous.
If you are interested in a psychological treatment for phagophobia, I invite you to contact me.