The mind-body connection is one that can’t be denied. Your thoughts and feelings often manifest into physical symptoms in your body. Nausea, headache, racing heart, sweating, and shaking are common examples of physical symptoms caused by a mental health condition such as anxiety.
When we experience anxiety we are actually experiencing a perceived threat of harm or a threat to our safety. Many people often describe their physical symptoms, especially gut-related, as anxiety nausea.
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Can Anxiety Cause Nausea?
When we are experiencing anxiety, our brain releases chemicals throughout our body that help us fight, flight, or freeze to help protect ourselves against the threat (whether real or perceived). Some of these chemicals end up in our gut and our digestive tract.
The chemicals released into the body when we are experiencing anxiety are called neurotransmitters. When neurotransmitters enter the gut it disturbs the delicate balance of bacteria in the microbiome of our gut; this disturbance is what causes us to feel nauseous (as well as other gastrointestinal problems) when we are experiencing anxiety. This is where the term anxiety nausea comes into light.
What Does Anxiety Nausea Feel Like?
You may be wondering what anxiety nausea feels like. Some people refer to the feeling of nausea as simply feeling sick. More specifically, feelings of nausea most commonly occur in the back of the throat and in the mouth. Other symptoms can include:
- Clammy hands
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Difficulty swallowing
Vomiting can often accompany symptoms of nausea. If you experience anxiety vomiting, you may feel apprehensive and even fearful of engaging in social situations that increase your anxiety. In fact, the biological urge associated with anxiety is avoidance, so you may desperately want to avoid the thing that is triggering your anxiety and subsequent vomiting. Some things you can actively avoid such as Halloween horror flicks, sharks and the all-too-common clowns. Unfortunately, there are other anxiety triggers that you simply can’t avoid.
Public speaking, large crowds, taking tests, and meeting new people are common examples of triggers to anxiety symptoms. While you can do your best to minimize your exposure to these things, they are unavoidable. The good news is there are strategies you can employ that can help reduce and manage your symptoms.
Symptoms of Anxiety-Related Stomach Issues
You may not know how to tell if nausea is from anxiety. When you experience anxiety and stress, your body actually releases chemicals such as hormones in your body, particularly in your gut. Many people experience stomach anxiety problems including:
- Stomach cramps
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Reduced appetite
- Excessive and unnatural hunger
Healthy connections are reciprocal, as there exists an equal amount of give and take. The stomach-brain connection is also reciprocal in nature, meaning that not only does the brain communicate issues to the gut, but the gut also communicates issues to the brain.
This means issues like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be the cause or the result of anxiety. If you experience diarrhea when you’re anxious, the fear of having to use the bathroom in a hurry while out in public can actually increase already existing anxiety symptoms. You can see how this interplay can exacerbate your symptoms.
How to Treat Anxiety-Induced Nausea
You can reduce your anxiety nausea symptoms, however, the fact of the matter is that stress and anxiety are a natural, healthy part of life. It is not realistic to think that these symptoms can be completely eliminated. However, you can be strategic and intentionally do things to help manage anxiety and stress.
Limit Caffeine and Other Stimulants
Studies continuously show a correlation between caffeine consumption and anxiety levels. While caffeine isn’t necessarily bad for you and when used in small doses can have benefits to your overall health, it has been proven to increase anxiety as it is a stimulant. Caffeine consumption has been proven to ignite anxiety symptoms and individuals who have social anxiety and panic disorder are at higher risk of experiencing anxiety when caffeine is consumed.
Get Enough Sleep
Get adequate sleep to help reduce your risk of experiencing anxiety. Poor sleep contributes to an increase in anxiety, and an increase in anxiety can make it difficult to sleep. If you are struggling with getting a restful night’s sleep, talk to your doctor about possible treatment options that can help you fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Over the counter supplements and prescription medications may be recommended. Treating insomnia may inadvertently help treat and resolve your anxiety.
Physical exercise has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms in adults. In fact, studies show that people who exercise regularly experience less anxiety due to the way they perceive and interpret events. As previously mentioned, when we experience anxiety, we are experiencing a perceived threat to our safety or well-being. Individuals who regularly exercise are able to recognize when the threat is real and when the threat is based on catastrophic thinking (there is no real threat). Therefore, they are not as vulnerable to perceiving stimulus as threatening as individuals who do not regularly exercise so they are triggered less frequently.
Meditate or Listen to Guided Relaxation Exercises
Studies suggest that practicing mindful meditation daily can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. Worried thoughts accompany anxiety and the experience of anxiety and worry thoughts are cyclical in nature. When we experience a worried thought our brain responds by sending chemicals throughout our body which increases our physical experience of anxiety. This physical experience of anxiety can increase our worry thoughts and the cycle continues.
Mindfulness practice has been proven to help people distinguish between a worry thought and a thought that is based on facts and solution-focused. Being able to decipher our thoughts and focus our attention on the thoughts that are based on fact and problem-solving rather than worry and catastrophizing is key to reducing our experience and symptoms of anxiety.
Develop an awareness of your personal limits and say no when you need to so you can manage your stress levels.
Remember to Breathe
Take breaks throughout your day and center yourself by taking deep breaths; make sure your exhale is longer than your inhale so you slow your heart rate down.
Learn to Accept Things Beyond Your Control
Identify the things that are within your control and the things that aren’t. Practice acceptance of the things you can’t change and do one small thing to change something within your control.
Use Your Senses to Help Comfort and Soothe Yourself
Use your senses to help comfort and soothe yourself. Wearing your favorite hoodie, smelling your favorite lotion, and eating a small piece of your favorite candy can help minimize anxiety symptoms and help you get through a stressful situation.
Plan Fun Activities
Schedule a pleasurable activity for yourself to do after you face the anxiety-inducing situation. Focusing on the positive and pleasurable activities can help lessen your experience of anxiety symptoms.
Self-care includes taking all medication as prescribed, getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine. Prioritizing self-care can help you to manage symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety and the Mind-Body Connection
Your gut health is essential to your overall health. A healthy gut leads to a healthy mind and body. If you are concerned about your stomach and gut health, talk to your doctor. Your health care provider can help you determine if therapy would be an appropriate next step.
Your doctor can also rule out a physical health issue and provide you with proper medical care. Do your best to reduce your anxiety and stress to help manage your symptoms. Remember, some things can’t be avoided and when that’s the case, be sure to be skillful in coping with your anxiety as best as you can.
Jacquelyn Buffo, M.S., L.P.C., C.A.A.D.C.
Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her master’s of science degree in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan.
The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.
If you are in crisis or you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.
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