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What is a nervous stomach (and do I have one)?
Having a nervous stomach can be a common occurrence in some people. According to doctors and medical science, however, it isn’t an official or diagnosable condition.
Nervous stomach can also just be how your digestive system works naturally during times of stress. As well, it could be just an isolated experience.
Common symptoms of a nervous stomach may include:
- “butterflies” in the stomach
- tightness, churning, cramping, knots in the stomach
- feeling nervous or anxious
- shaking, shivering, twitching of muscles
- frequent flatulence
- stomach upset, nausea, or queasiness
- indigestion, or rapid fullness when eating
- warmth, fluttering, or bloated feeling in pit of stomach
- increased urination and bowel movements
In rare cases, a nervous stomach may strongly affect the bowels. Frequent or uncontrolled urination or bowel movements — and sometimes gagging or vomiting — can be the result of an extreme nervous stomach, but not always.
A nervous stomach can often be treated with home and natural remedies, as well as lifestyle changes.
Try herbal remedies
Certain herbs can ease nervous stomach in some people as it’s happening. If you experience nausea or queasiness, ginger root may help. Chew a piece of root, drink ginger tea, eat ginger candy, or sip some ginger ale with real ginger in it for benefit.
Other herbs, like spearmint, peppermint, lavender, or lemon balm, are also well-known antispasmodics: They may stop spasms and tightening of smooth muscle that cause stomach butterflies, flatulence, cramps, and upset. Eat a raw leaf or two from a live plant, pop a mint that contains real mint ingredients, or enjoy these herbs in a tea.
Avoid caffeine, especially coffee
The caffeine content of coffee can fuel nervousness and anxiety, making it worse. What’s more, coffee also stimulates the bowels, worsening bowel symptoms.
Practice deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation
Mental exercises help you focus on your breath and bring you back to the present moment. This can manage stress and anxiety that cause a nervous stomach. Deep breaths can be especially helpful.
If you like meditation or have any other mental tricks that calm you down, give them a try.
Try calming diffuser oils or incenses
Herbal incenses, or essential oils used as aromatic diffusers, have been known to help some people with anxiety.
Purchase products with calming herbs like chamomile, lavender, vetiver, or rose. Follow the product’s directions. Combine this with some relaxing time and space for yourself when dealing with a nervous stomach.
Find space for yourself to relax
Ultimately, find time and space for yourself to clear your head and take control of your nervousness, even if it must be total alone time. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself, even from an important event.
If talking to a friend, family member, or loved one helps, do so during this time. Talking with someone you trust can help you overcome anxiety.
Most likely, you’ll get a nervous stomach because you’re simply nervous. It can happen to anyone.
The brain and gut are connected via the vagus nerve, one of the largest nerves in the body. This nerve sends signals from the brain to gut and vice versa, increasing digestive irritability and irregularity when stress and anxiety occurs.
If you have symptoms of a nervous stomach on a regular basis and especially if your symptoms are progressively getting worse, you may need to give more attention to your stress levels and digestive health.
In rare instances, nervous stomach may signal an underlying health problem. If nervous stomach is a common experience for you, check in with your doctor.
They will help rule out other issues that may be affecting your stomach, such as:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- peptic ulcer disease
- inflammatory bowel disease
- celiac disease
- anxiety disorder
In even rarer instances, nervous stomach may be related to gallstones or vagus nerve damage.
Otherwise, nervous stomach is a completely normal occurrence that is easily managed.
Certain treatments are a quick fix for a nervous stomach. However, if it’s a common and troublesome occurrence, here’s some more holistic lifestyle approaches that may be helpful.
Manage stress in your life
A nervous stomach could mean that you’re simply in a nervous state. Are you undergoing a lot of stress lately? Do you have a big event, job interview, or nerve-wracking experience coming up? You could just be nervous about it, and it will pass.
If you’re dealing with chronic stressful experiences and a lot of nervous stomach symptoms every day, on the other hand, finding time and ways to manage that stress is essential. Your nervous stomach could then subside.
Improve gut health
A nervous stomach could be an indicator that you have a digestive condition. It could also mean both stress levels and digestive health need improving. Dealing with lots of indigestion, bloating, and fullness with nervous stomach are strong signs of this.
Try simple changes to your diet like eating more fiber- and probiotic-rich foods, or take fiber or probiotic supplements. Preliminary studies on mice like this one from 2011 have shown that probiotics may help ease anxiety with gut symptoms, via action on the vagus nerve.
Talk to your doctor before making major diet changes and taking supplements — especially if you take medications.
Switch up meals
Try eating smaller meals instead of big ones. Your digestion may be impeded, which could be causing your nervous stomach. It helps to eat smaller, lighter meals with easy-to-digest foods when dealing with stomach butterflies. You can also try eating more frequent meals and snacks on the lighter end, instead of three heavy meals each day.
Try exercising more
Finding a physical outlet for stress and anxiety may reduce its negative impact on the digestive system. Exercise and physical activity, like yoga, could be helpful.