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Abdominal Pain & Discomfort With Anxiety

Wendy M Yoder, Ph.D.
Abdominal Pain & Discomfort With Anxiety

Abdominal pain can be a struggle, and unfortunately it can be hard to diagnose the source of the discomfort. But if you've seen a doctor and there does not appear to be a medical cause, you may want to speak with a specialist and consider that your anxiety could be to blame.

In this article, we'll explore the causes of abdominal pain from anxiety, along with ideas for how to decrease the extent of this pain.

Causes of Abdominal Discomfort From Anxiety

Abdominal discomfort has many different definitions. In some cases, it's a literal pain in the ab muscles. In others, you may be talking about stomach pains that happen to feel like they're occurring in the abs - similar to indigestion or gas. That is one of the reasons that it is still a good idea to consult with your doctor first, as it will be helpful to rule out most other medical causes.

There are several issues that may arise as a result of anxiety that may lead to abdominal pain, but you should note that this is not an exhaustive list. The gut and abdomen are highly affected by stress and anxiety, so there are countless potential causes of discomfort. Some possible reasons for abdominal pain from anxiety include:

These are just a few examples of how anxiety and stress can lead to abdominal pain. Anxiety dramatically affects your body, and over time there are several issues that can lead to various shooting and non-shooting pains in the abdomen.

Hypersensitivity to Abdominal Discomfort

Another related issue that is quite common in those with anxiety is hypersensitivity. This is when the mind becomes "over-sensitive" to the way their body feels. A person with hypersensitivity may notice every single change in the way their body feels, and can't help but focus on them to the point where they'll start to feel more severe than they may be. Others with hypersensitivity may focus heavily on a specific part of the body (such as the abdomen) and be especially prone to reacting to how that body part feels. 

Many people experience mild stomach discomfort regularly for no clear or medically important reason at all. But those with hypersensitivity are more likely to find it distressing. Since anxiety causes hypersensitivity in many people, that can make it appear that anxiety is "causing" stomach issues that would otherwise be ignored in those without anxiety.

How to Overcome Abdominal Pain from Anxiety

If you're concerned about your abdominal pain, especially if it is significantly disabling or doesn't appear to let up even when your anxiety has gone away, it never hurts to see a doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your pains and discomforts.

There are some strategies you can use to try to overcome this pain. They include:

Of course, the best way to stop your abdominal pain is to stop your anxiety, and the best way to stop your anxiety is to commit yourself to empirically validated treatments.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is an outstanding option, as it addresses issues like hypersensitivity in addition to anxiety as a whole. There are also medications that may be useful, as well as self-help changes that one could implement - including eating a healthier diet, sleeping at a reasonable hour, and exercising to promote better digestion.

Although many people try their best to address the stomach pain itself, if anxiety is leading to abdominal pain it may be just as important to address the anxiety. Only then can you help eliminate that as a potential cause and continue to make progress in feeling less physical distress.

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