Physical Symptoms

What are Stomach Butterflies?

Emma Loker, BSc Psychology

Written by

Emma Loker, BSc Psychology

Last updated March 19, 2023

What are Stomach Butterflies?

Have you ever experienced a fluttering sensation in your stomach, sometimes referred to as "butterflies in your stomach"? This physical manifestation of nervous feeling or excitement is a common experience for many people.

Most of us feel that characteristic butterfly sensation when we have a big interview, are presenting in front of a large audience, or when strange swoony sensations when we see someone who catches our eye. In this way, stomach butterflies are normal and healthy.

However, if caused by chronic nervousness or an anxiety disorder, butterfly sensations may begin to disrupt your daily life.

To answer any questions regarding stomach butterflies, this article will explore

  • Symptoms of butterflies in the stomach
  • Causes of belly butterflies
  • Treatment methods for the butterfly feeling in the stomach

Symptoms of Butterfly Feeling In Stomach

The sensation of butterflies in the stomach is a physical feeling often accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the cause. Some symptoms you may experience with the butterfly feeling in the stomach are:

  • Fluttering or trembling sensation in the stomach
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Feel nervous or anxious
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
  • Increased perspiration or clammy hands
  • Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Shortness of breath

These are all very common symptoms of chronic anxiety or stress, also known as anxiety disorder.

What Causes the Butterfly Feeling in Your Stomach?

You may experience a butterfly feeling in your stomach for several reasons. The most common reasons are anxiety and excitement. However, it may also be due to digestion issues, hormone changes, eating certain foods, and medications.

Anxiety or Stress

The sensation of butterflies in your stomach is often associated with the fight or flight response, a natural physiological reaction to stress or danger.

When we encounter a perceived threat, our body prepares to take action by releasing adrenaline and increasing heart rate and blood pressure. This heightened state of arousal can cause physical symptoms such as shaking, increased perspiration, and a fluttering feeling in the stomach.

How does anxiety cause stomach symptoms?

The sensation of butterflies in the stomach is a physical manifestation of the brain-gut connection - the close relationship between the brain and the digestive system.

The brain and gut communicate with each other through a network of neurons, hormones, and immune cells, and this communication can have a significant impact on both physical and emotional well-being.

The brain directly influences the gut through the enteric nervous system, a network of neurons that control the muscles and secretions in the digestive system.

The enteric nervous system can be affected by emotions and stress, which can lead to changes in gut motility and secretion, as well as symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain.

Conversely, the gut can also influence the brain through the production of neurotransmitters and hormones, such as serotonin and oxytocin. These chemicals can have a powerful effect on mood, and changes in their levels can affect feelings of anxiety, depression, and overall well-being.

Positive Emotions

The butterfly feeling in the stomach is not limited to situations of stress or danger. It can also be triggered by positive emotions such as excitement or anticipation, such as when we are looking forward to a fun event or meeting a love interest.

In these cases, the butterflies in the stomach result from increased activity in the brain's reward centers, which release feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin.

Other Causes of Stomach Butterflies

Other potential causes of the butterfly feeling in the stomach include:

  • Digestion issues
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Sensitivity to certain foods
  • Medication

Digestion issues

Problems with the digestive system, such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, can sometimes cause a fluttering sensation in the stomach.

Hormonal fluctuations

Changes in hormone levels, such as those that occur during pregnancy or menopause, can also cause the sensation of butterflies in the stomach.

Sensitivity to certain foods

Some people may experience the butterfly feeling after eating certain foods, such as caffeine or spicy dishes.


Some medications, such as those used to treat an anxiety disorder or depression, can trigger the butterfly feeling as a side effect.

It is important to note that the butterfly feeling in the stomach is a normal and common experience; in most cases, it is not a cause for concern.

However, if the sensation is persistent or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is a good idea to consult a doctor for further evaluation.

What to Do About Butterfly Feeling in Stomach

If you are experiencing butterflies in your stomach due to chronic stress or an anxiety disorder, there are several ways to reduce stress and, as a result, reduce the sensation:

  • Deep breathing techniques
  • Physical exercise
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Therapy

Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep breathing techniques can slow down your heart rate and relax your muscles. Focusing on your breath and taking slow, deep inhales and exhales can also help shift your attention away from any negative thoughts or worries contributing to your anxiety.

Physical Exercise

Exercise can also be an effective way to reduce anxiety and the butterfly feeling in the stomach. Physical activity can help to release endorphins, which are chemicals that promote feelings of happiness and well-being. Going for a walk, running, or participating in a yoga class can help reduce worry and calm the nerves.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in your body to help you relax and let go of tension.

To practice progressive muscle relaxation, start by tensing the muscles in your feet and slowly work your way up to the muscles in your face, holding the tension for a few seconds before releasing it. This can help to increase awareness of muscle tension and facilitate relaxation.


Therapy can effectively address the underlying causes and find ways to cope with these emotions. There are several different types of therapy that can be helpful in soothing stomach butterflies, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety and stress. CBT can help individuals to develop coping skills and strategies for managing anxiety and can be particularly effective for managing symptoms of anxiety disorders.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a form of CBT that emphasizes the importance of balancing acceptance and change. DBT can be helpful for individuals who have difficulty regulating their emotions and may be prone to intense or extreme reactions to stress.
  • Mindfulness-based therapies: These therapies, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), involve teaching individuals to focus their attention on the present moment and cultivate a sense of non-judgmental awareness. Mindfulness practices can help manage anxiety and stress and can also help to improve overall well-being.

You can find more information on treatment methods for anxiety here.

No Treatment At All

Before trying out any treatment method for stomach butterflies, it may be worth asking yourself, "do I need to do anything about the butterfly feeling in my stomach?"

If you are experiencing butterflies in your stomach due to positive emotions such as excitement, it can be helpful to embrace the sensation and allow yourself to feel the excitement. Instead of trying to suppress or ignore the feeling, try focusing on the positive aspects of the situation causing the butterflies. Remind yourself that the butterflies are a normal and natural response to something you are looking forward to. Try to embrace the feeling as a sign of excitement and anticipation.

If you have any other anxiety-related stomach problems, check out our article on how to stop anxiety stomach pain.

Final Word on Fluttery Sensation in the Stomach

The fluttery sensation in our belly is a common, normal thing we experience when in certain worrying or exciting situations. It's also common to feel stomach butterflies when stressed and anxious, especially if you have an anxiety disorder.

While stomach butterflies are nothing to be alarmed by, experiencing chronic stomach fluttery sensations may warrant consultation with a doctor. You could also try deep breathing techniques, physical exercise, progressive muscle relaxation, or therapy to limit the frequency with which you feel butterflies.

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!

Ask Doctor a Question


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

– Anonymous patient


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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