Posted on November 10, 2020
Feeling anxious and nauseous at the same time? Learn how anxiety could be the culprit of your upset stomach.
There’s nothing worse than a persistent churning in your upset stomach. Nausea is no fun at all, especially when you don’t know the source of the bad feeling. Anxiety is also an unpleasant experience, especially without anxiety therapy with a therapy matching service to connect you to the right people. If you’re someone who’s prone to both, you know all too well they can cause similar symptoms, making it difficult to determine exactly what you’re feeling. Do you experience anxiety and also feel nauseous at times, but aren’t sure whether they are related? Can anxiety cause nausea? Well, the answer is, yes!
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms that range from a mild interruption of your daily flow to debilitating your life. Can anxiety make you tired? Simple anwer, yes. One symptom resulting from anxiety is what is known as anxiety nausea. And, just because you have anxiety, does not mean you will experience anxiety nausea. Often, its presence depends on how stressed you are or how severe your anxiety is, but everyone responds to anxiety differently. Since nausea is a symptom of being stressed, and tends to dissipate once the stress is gone, it is not something you have to be concerned about unless it is persistent or a regular occurrence.
For most people with anxiety, nausea is caused by stress. For others, the anxiety itself can lead to the development of nausea separate to the stress response, which can in turn cause more stress. If it seems tricky to pinpoint, it is. Often, being nauseous can trigger anxiety, which only propels the feelings into a vicious cycle. Let’s break down both and find connections.
Anxiety is the body’s response to stress and, unfortunately, can cause a variety of negative psychological and physical symptoms. When you feel anxious about a situation, your brain sends out high alert signals. It’s how your body prepares you to fight, flee, or freeze. In the right circumstances, anxiety can save your life.
Everyone feels anxiety occasionally; it’s not inherently a bad thing. You might feel anxious when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. But, anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, there is little to no respite from the sensation, and can often get worse over time. The anxiety symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.
There are several types of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.
Anxiety affects your body in different ways that are defined as anxiety symptoms. When you feel overly anxious, many people feel a constriction in their pulmonary and respiratory systems, noticing an increase in their heart rate, a heaviness in the chest, or difficulty breathing. Others manifest their stress in their digestive system, with nausea, indigestion, stomach cramping, diarrhea, and sometimes vomiting. The severity of the discomfort can range.
Anxiety is a natural response to danger or a threat. It happens when the brain releases neurotransmitters to prepare the body for fight or flight. When some of these neurotransmitters get into the digestive tract, they upset the gut microbiome, and this can cause stomach symptoms that include nausea. During a moment of high anxiety, you might feel just a bit queasy, like that “butterflies in your stomach” feeling you might have before giving a public presentation or going on a job interview. This kind of nausea may be brief, while other instances of anxiety-related nausea can make you totally sick to your stomach. Your upset stomach churns so much that you have to make a dash for the bathroom, even reaching the point of dry heaving or vomiting.
Another side effect of anxiety is flu-like symptoms. Because anxiety causes your body to exert itself as a response to danger for abnormally long periods of time, the body’s new default is in danger mode, which is exhausting. It causes muscle tension, which brings aches and pain. It increases your breathing, which makes you short of breath. Anxiety also causes increased blood flow, which can make you dizzy and warm. Yes, it can also cause nausea, in addition to gas, diarrhea, or constipation. All these symptoms can be mistaken for the flu.
When treating your anxiety, it is necessary to control how your mind and body are affected by the symptoms of anxiety. It may be helpful to track when you experience nausea, what’s going on at the time, and how you’ve tried to resolve it. This can provide insight on the nausea’s connection to anxious feelings, as opposed to actually being sick. Many people are accustomed to using over the counter antiemetic medications like Dramamine, but these shouldn’t be used for an extended period of time as a crutch. Likewise, medications like Pepto-Bismol or anything containing Bismuth can have adverse effects like stopping up your digestive system and dehydrating you since they’re intended for a different cause of nausea, not anxiety nausea. There are other, more behavioral ways to deal with anxiety nausea that can be more effective and have no adverse side effects.
When you feel nausea come on, eat a small amount of something dry, like plain crackers or plain bread, and slowly sip water or something clear and cold. If you’re wearing something restrictive, change into clothing that doesn’t put pressure on your abdomen. Of course, try to calm yourself with long, deep breaths. It’s also a good idea to avoid fried, greasy, and sweet foods. Mixing hot and cold foods together can often cause dyspepsia, and intense physical activity should be postponed.
If your nausea continues or worsens there are things you can do to help prevent or stop vomiting. Drink water and other clear liquids in small sips to replenish lost fluids, and avoid solid foods until it’s passed. Rest and stay as calm as much as possible to prevent further anxiety.
In the long term, stay away from heavy, greasy foods. Stay hydrated, but limit alcohol and caffeine and eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three big meals. If you frequently need over-the-counter nausea medications or vomit often, talk to your doctor. If the nausea is truly anxiety related, looking into general anxiety management like mindfulness, regular exercise, and therapy could also be a long term solution.
If anxiety-related nausea is interfering with your quality of life, and you can’t manage it on your own, it’s time to see your doctor. If it’s not due to a medical condition, ask for a referral to a mental health professional. Talking therapies can help people cope with an anxiety disorder.
Aside from general talk therapy, there are more specialized approaches that can be especially useful for anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is focused on changing unhelpful patterns of thinking. During CBT, a therapist helps the person identify thoughts that make them anxious, and then teaches strategies for reacting to the thoughts in a more positive and constructive way. Psychodynamic psychotherapy is another approach that attempts to address the cause of a person’s anxiety through self-reflection and self-examination. It may be most useful for anxiety resulting from a traumatic experience or deep-seated emotional conflict.
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some point. But, there are steps you can take to lower stress and deal with occasional bouts of nausea, with many techniques available to manage stress and anxiety in everyday life. Different relaxation techniques and coping skills can help whether you have social anxiety, feel a panic attack happening, or have anxiety sensitivity. However, if you find that they are not enough support and you aren’t seeing relief, you may need to find an anxiety therapist. Advekit can help you get matched with an anxiety therapist today.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.