Anxiety can affect your digestive system and may cause symptoms that include discomfort and nausea.
Anxiety is a response to stress, and it can cause a variety of psychological and physical symptoms.
When you feel overly anxious, you might notice that your heart rate speeds up and your breathing rate increases. And you might experience a bout of nausea.
During a moment of high anxiety, you might feel just a bit queasy. It’s that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling that you might have before giving a public presentation or going on a job interview. This kind of nausea may pass fairly quickly.
But sometimes, anxiety-related nausea can make you totally sick to your stomach. Your stomach churns so much that you have to make a dash for the bathroom. You may even reach the point of dry heaving or vomiting.
Everyone feels anxiety occasionally. It’s not abnormal and not necessarily a bad thing. But it can be problematic if you frequently feel anxiousness accompanied by nausea.
Read on as we explore anxiety-related nausea, ways to manage it, and when it’s time to see a doctor.
Anxiety can trigger your fight, flight, or freeze response. Basically, your body is preparing you to face a crisis. This is a natural reaction to a stressful situation and, when called for, can help you survive.
When you feel stressed or anxious, your body releases a rush of hormones. Neurotransmitters in the brain react by sending messages to the rest of your body to:
- get the heart pumping faster
- increase the breathing rate
- tense the muscles
- send more blood to the brain
Anxiety and stress can affect virtually every body system. This includes your cardiovascular, endocrine, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, and respiratory systems.
In the digestive system, stress can cause:
- nausea, vomiting
- heartburn, acid reflux
- stomachache, gas, bloating
- diarrhea, constipation, painful spasms in the bowel
If you’re one of the
anxiety disorders that may cause nausea
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), also known as chronic anxiety
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- social anxiety disorder
If you’re having this type of response often or for no apparent reason, it can negatively affect your quality of life.
Anxiety disorders that aren’t addressed can lead to other conditions, such as depression.
The symptoms you feel due to anxiety are very real. Your body is responding to a perceived threat.
Assuming that it’s not a true emergency situation, there are some things you can do to help to control anxiety and nausea.
Coping with anxiety
When anxiety takes hold, try to focus on the present rather than stressing about what may happen later.
Consider what’s happening in the moment, and remind yourself that you’re safe and that the feeling will pass.
Take long, deep breaths. Or try to distract yourself by listening to your favorite song or counting backward from 100.
It takes time for your body to get the signal that you’re not in immediate danger, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Ways to cope with anxiety
There are also a few things you can do to cope with anxiety in the long term, such as:
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
- limiting alcohol and caffeine
- getting enough sleep
- keeping up with your friends and maintaining your social network
- having a plan in place (meditation, aromatherapy, or deep breathing exercises you can use when you feel anxious)
If you have chronic anxiety, see your primary care physician for a thorough checkup. Your doctor can refer you to licensed professionals who can help determine your triggers, address your anxiety issues, and teach you how to keep it from spiraling out of control.
Coping with nausea
What to do when nausea hits
Try these when you feel nauseated:
- Eat a small amount of something dry, like plain crackers or plain bread.
- Slowly sip water or something clear and cold.
- If you’re wearing something tight, change into clothing that doesn’t restrict your stomach.
- Try to calm yourself by taking long, deep breaths.
Avoid these things when you feel nauseated:
- fried, greasy, and sweet foods
- mixing hot and cold foods
- intense physical activity
If your nausea continues or worsens there are things you can do to help prevent or stop vomiting. If you’re vomiting:
- Drink water and other clear liquids in small sips to replenish lost fluids.
- Rest and avoid physical activity.
- Don’t eat solid food until it passes.
In the long term:
- Try to avoid heavy, greasy foods.
- Stay hydrated, but limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three big meals.
If you frequently need over-the-counter nausea medications or vomit often, talk with your doctor.
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.
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at some point. There are steps you can take to lower stress and deal with occasional bouts of nausea.
There is help. Anxiety, nausea, and anxiety disorders can be identified and effectively managed.