Originally published on June 28, 2021
What Do Chewing Gum and Mental Health Have in Common?
Every once in a while, whether to write new content or learn something, I’ll poke around online and see what recent studies I can find in the mental health space. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across one suggesting that chewing gum can reduce stress and anxiety and lead to a heightened sense of alertness.
One thing I found particularly intriguing about that study was that it overlapped quite a bit with the mental-health-related book I was reading at the time. Having now drawn conclusions from both of those works, I want to share my insights with you, then try to relate them to some of my core “Get Out of Your Head” teachings.
Let’s start with the book. The title I was reading was Oprah’s new one, called “What Happened to You?” It’s an interview-style manuscript she wrote with Dr. Bruce Perry — a prominent psychiatrist and researcher. The subject of the book is trauma. It explains how the painful things that occur in our lives shape our brains and temperaments and have a lasting effect on our behaviors and outlooks.
It’s a heavy read from an emotional perspective, which is why I recommend it cautiously. There are stories within it that are both inspiring and triggering, so if you pick it up and have a history of trauma, just be a tad careful. You can always bow out or skip ahead if you feel it necessary.
One of the book’s key themes is bodily and emotional regulation in the face of stress. When it comes to this topic, Oprah and Perry state that when traumatic or distressing events take place in our lives, we regulate ourselves through various behaviors and coping mechanisms to work off our unwanted emotions and get back to baseline.
Some of us do such a thing by exercising, writing, or playing music. Others turn to violence, gambling, drugs, or alcohol. In our journey of self-healing, we must ask ourselves what our own means of regulating our feelings are. Sometimes, stress pushes us into destructive behaviors without us even realizing it.
After I read the regulation-related sections in Oprah and Dr. Perry’s book, I asked myself, “What are some of the less obvious ways we regulate ourselves?” Eager to know the answer to that question, I grabbed my computer and started digging. That led me to the “chewing gum and mental health” study I mentioned above, which got me thinking and drawing connections.
I often chew gum before significant events because I feel like it gives me something to do and focus on other than my nerves. I sometimes tell my coaching clients to do the same. But I never really made the connection between such a practice and methodically regulating the body and mind. I always just did it without thinking much about it.
It was nice to finally have some scientific backing of my fairly non-methodical strategy. That’s why I found both the study and Oprah’s book to be so interesting.
If we break down such a tactic and relate it to some of the “Get Out of Your Head” content with which you may already be familiar, it seems to make a good deal of sense.
For starters, as I alluded to just a moment ago, chewing gum gives us something to do with our nervous energy. It allows us to channel some small portion of the anxiety we’re experiencing into the gum itself. That rechanneling is a crucial tool when it comes to stress. It’s also something I’ve written about before.
Second, when we channel our stress properly, we give it an escape route. That allows it to either move to another place in our bodies or leave them entirely. And once we spread that stress out or eradicate it, we quiet some of the noise in our heads and allow ourselves a chance to break free from our anxious minds.
This process, what I call “getting back into our bodies,” is something I refer to in my first book and the ten-step anxiety-mitigation framework within it. If we look at step five in that framework, we see that reciting a short, emotion-based phrase or mantra can often help us escape in-the-moment fear.
Such a mantra could take the form of something like, “Everything is going to be okay” or “If you get in your head, you’re dead.” In that same book, I recommend that readers recite their mantras while making some type of physical movement, be it pounding their chests or pumping their fists in the air.
Just like chewing gum, these physical movements reroute the stress in our minds to other places in our bodies or help remove it altogether. This rerouting serves as a primary regulation strategy, which, in turn, allows us to bring our awareness back to our bodies and savor the present moment once more.
So, whether it’s through chomping into a new stick, exercising, or pounding your chest, let the gum-related study above and “What Happened to You?” be reminders of the importance of regulating and insulating ourselves against stress and anxiety. The more often we do it, and the more empowering ways by which we do, the more likely we’ll be to break free from our fretful minds and get back to everyday life.
Thanks for Reading. Want Some More Mental Health Insights?
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