Upset stomach is one of the most problematic anxiety symptoms. It comes at inopportune moments, and it has a tendency to make you feel sick in a way that is incredibly distracting, and many even be worrisome.
Stomach upset is one of the reasons that anxiety can be hard to differentiate from illnesses or indigestion, and only a doctor can tell you if you're actually sick. But upset stomach is also a very real anxiety symptom that can have a very serious effect on your overall happiness.
Upset Stomach = Anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the most common causes of gastrointestinal discomfort, especially severe anxiety. But stomach upset may also be caused by more serious conditions, like infections and GERD.
Find out more about the severity of your anxiety symptoms by taking my 7-minute anxiety test. This test will help you learn more about how you're dealing with anxiety.
Anxiety and Focusing on Stomach Discomfort
Because anxiety can lead to stomach upset, those suffering from regular and persistent anxiety often find that their stomach is constantly bothering them. Yet it's not just because your stomach is upset either.
Anxiety causes your mind to focus on the issues that are bothering you the most, and so when your stomach is bothering you because of anxiety, anxiety will cause that effect to be amplified. If you haven't done so yet, take the 7 minute anxiety test I developed to give better understand your anxiety symptoms.
Types of Stomach Upset From Anxiety
Anxiety and the stomach are linked in a variety of ways, and these links also cause your upset stomach to be experienced in different ways. You may find that you have:
- Stomach pain
- Gurgling in your stomach
- Diarrhea/feeling of needing to go to the bathroom
In some cases, your upset stomach may simply feel "off," without a clear way to describe the experience. You simply know that something feels wrong. You may also experience severe stomach tension, which may also give your stomach a feeling of being ill.
What Causes Anxiety Related Upset Stomach?
Scientists have many different theories about why anxiety causes an upset stomach. One of the key beliefs is that anxiety causes changes in neurotransmitter function, particularly serotonin. There are serotonin (and other neurotransmitter) receptors in the gut, and so when your body is experiencing anxiety, it's likely receiving chemicals that tell it to respond with that upset feeling.
Other causes include:
- Adrenaline Body Changes Adrenaline and stress change hormone levels and digestion. It's likely that, when your body is responding with the fight/flight system, it's taking something away from the gut that it needs to function properly and causes a feeling of malaise.
- Stomach Tension Anxiety also puts a great deal of pressure on the stomach muscles, and these, in turn, put pressure on the stomach. Any stomach pressure has the potential to change the way that your stomach feels during periods of stress.
- IBS Irritable bowel syndrome has been linked to anxiety and stress. Its cause isn't entirely clear, but it likely has to do with some combination of hormonal changes and immune system functions as a result of extreme stress. Even though you may not have IBS, you may be suffering from similar temporary issues related to whatever causes IBS.
The way stress affects your body is so unusual that it can be hard to track exactly what it's doing to any given person. It may be that anxiety changes the way your body processes nutrients, leading to stomach upset. It may also be that when your immune system is weak from stress, germs that are present in your stomach bother your immune system more.
All of these are potential issues that lead to problems with your stomach during periods of stress.
How to Control Your Anxiety Upset Stomach
That stomach upset can really put a damper on your ability to live a happy life. Ideally, you'll need to cure your anxiety to experience a calmer stomach.
Even though anxiety is causing your stomach to feel sick, many of the symptoms can be reduced with various upset stomach medications. You never want to take medicine if you can avoid it, but many people have had success with basic medications that calm the stomach. Common examples include:
Eating a bit healthier can also help. Remember that your anxiety is affecting your gut, but it's not causing the symptoms all on its own. What's in your stomach has an effect on the severity of the symptoms as well. Eating healthier - especially on days you expect to experience anxiety - can be very helpful. Drinking water may also be useful since water is gentle on the stomach.
You should also try distracting yourself. While your upset stomach may be severe, anxiety causes a tendency to focus on the experience, which causes further anxiety and exacerbates the severity of the stomach pain. A positive distraction, like a funny TV show, can actually make a big difference in the way you experience your upset stomach.
Finally, you'll need to prevent your anxiety so that you don't experience this much gastrointestinal distress.
I've helped thousands of people with an upset stomach from anxiety, but before I can help I strongly recommend they take my 7 minute anxiety test. It will compare their symptoms to other anxiety sufferers, identify issues that may be related to anxiety, and more.
If you haven't yet, take my test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Jun 07, 2018.