Sensations

Is Anxiety Making You Feel Sick & Ill?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

Is Anxiety Making You Feel Sick & Ill?

Anxiety is an emotion linked to several mental health disorders. When people think of anxiety, often they think of worrying and stress. They think of fears and a feeling as though something is going to go wrong. Anxiety is seen in thoughts and behaviors.

But anxiety actually has a large physical component too. Stress can have a tremendous impact on your health, and one of the most common consequences is feeling ill and unwell.

Anxiety Can Cause Feelings of Illness

The stress from anxiety can cause feelings of genuine sickness. These feelings are often very similar to the way physical illnesses make you feel. Your stomach can feel like it's rumbling and you may even feel nauseated. Feeling sick may be a sign that you've fallen ill, but it can also be a sign of anxiety.

While feeling sick may be the only physical symptom of anxiety, there are often others including breathlessness, dizziness and fatigue.

Why Does Anxiety Cause a Sick Feeling?

In general, that sick feeling is caused by a number of different factors. Just a few of which include:

  • Standard Stress Response Scientists believe that nausea, and some of the common feelings of illness, are the result of issues with related to the activation of the fight or flight response and the hormones related to stress, like cortisol. 
  • Gut and Abdominal Pressure Anxiety can also lead to increased muscle tension that causes pressure on the stomach and guts. It is possible that this pressure affects how your stomach feels and thus gives you a sick feeling. 
  • Mild Illness Your body fights off germs every day. Anxiety can weaken your immune system, increasing the risk of developing common minor illnesses. This may also contribute to a feeling of nausea and sickness.

Feeling ill is something that often causes concern. Some people feel so sick that they vomit or experience profound nausea that keeps them away from their activities. In this way, the physical effects of anxiety can cause further anxiety, creating a cycle. 

Some people experience more than just nausea when anxious. They may experience other symptoms that are similar to catching a cold or flu. They may feel like their glands are swollen, or their tongue is dry. They may feel lightheaded. They may even cough or experience severe stomach discomfort, like indigestion.

Are You Sick?

When anxiety is causing these symptoms, they're unpleasant but not dangerous. Although you feel physically unwell, this is likely due to the body's natural fight or flight response rather than a disease. Fight or flight is thought to be an evolutionary survival mechanism to get us out of dangerous situations. 

The problem isn't the bodily symptoms themselves, which can be very useful in certain situations. The problem is that you're experiencing the response at unhelpful times and for long periods, often when it is inconvenient. People feel these symptoms for different reasons:

  • Situational Illness Feelings - some people experience anxiety as a result of various situations that come and go. For example, before a test, before a first date, before proposing, etc.
  • Chronic Illness Feelings - over the long term, chronic anxiety can also cause you to feel sick. This may relate to worrying situations that do not end, and is very often indicative of an anxiety disorder.

Situational anxiety is actually natural. It's uncomfortable, but it's natural. Back in school, if you felt severe illness before a big test, it's because you genuinely feared that test. It may even have motivated you to study harder. While tests don’t usually provoke extreme fear, the reaction is not unexpected.

Feelings of chronic illness from anxiety can be even more problematic because when your anxiety doesn't go away, the feeling of being ill won't go away either. It becomes something that makes you feel worse about your health, saps your energy and gets in the way of your day to day life. This is usually a sign that you need to do something about the anxiety. 

Temporarily Relief for the Sick Feeling

Most over the counter medicines that calm the stomach can be mildly effective at relieving most of the sick feeling. Even though the nausea is caused by anxiety, some of the symptoms can be relieved with medicines.

For issues like swollen glands, treating them can be a bit more complicated. That's because your glands aren't always swollen, and if they are it is not usually that severe. Yet focusing on that part of the body can make us hyper sensitive to physical changes, and they feel more distressing. Your body is so attuned to the way you feel that it starts to believe that it feels significant issues, out of proportion with the reality.

The only way to reduce that is to reduce your anxiety and to do that you need to start to understand your anxiety better. Explore our website for more information, or speak to a specialist to begin treatment. 

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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