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 various 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 may 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 may 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 unusual and not necessarily a bad thing. But it can be problematic if you frequently experience anxiety 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
  • raise 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 or vomiting
  • heartburn or acid reflux
  • stomachache, gas, or bloating
  • diarrhea, constipation, or painful spasms in the bowel

If you’re among the 7–16% of the U.S. population who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or the 12% who experience chronic upset stomach, feeling anxious might trigger symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

Anxiety disorders that may cause nausea

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 manage anxiety and nausea.

Coping with anxiety

When anxiety takes hold, you may find it helpful to try focusing 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 try not to 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 (if applicable)
  • 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, it’s best to see your primary care physician for a thorough checkup. Your doctor can refer you to licensed professionals. They can help determine your triggers, address your anxiety issues, and teach you how to prevent it from getting worse.

Coping with nausea

What to do when nausea hits

Try these when you feel you have nausea:

  • 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.

Try to avoid these things when you feel you have nausea:

  • 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, try the following:

  • 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, you may try:

  • avoiding heavy, greasy foods
  • staying hydrated and limiting alcohol and caffeine (if applicable)
  • eating 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 help manage occasional bouts of nausea.

There is help. Healthcare professionals can help you identify whether you’re experiencing anxiety, nausea, and anxiety disorders and recommend effective treatment options.