Physical Symptoms

Abdominal Pain & Discomfort With Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

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:

  • Muscle Tension When stressed, the body's muscles contract. That can cause significant muscle tension, and one of the areas of the body that is very likely to receive that muscle tension is the abdomen. Muscle tension can cause a great deal of physical pain, cramping, and other discomfort, and can tire muscles in a way that makes them more prone to very small amounts of painful damage.
  • Adjustments Similarly, because of that muscle tension (or because of the way that you sit/stand when you have anxiety), it's not uncommon for those with anxiety to adjust their posture in a way that is unnatural. Over time, that posture change can cause the muscles in your trunk to cramp up or experience pain.
  • Bloating and Stomach Pains Anxiety also commonly leads to a variety of stomach and intestinal health issues. Anxiousness has a tendency to affect digestion, including the way we process nutrients and the speed that they move through the intestines. This can lead to gas, bloating, indigestion, and several other issues that can cause immense stomach and abdominal discomfort, and may lead to all types of different pains that plague you daily.

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:

  • Stretching Even though anxiety may be contributing to your muscle tension, the tension is still tension like any other. Stretching is a good way to relieve this tension and make sure that you're not over-straining your muscles in a way that will cause pain or discomfort.
  • Healthy Eating While healthy eating can't prevent all indigestion and discomfort, it can prevent some of it. That's why it's valuable to make sure that you've changed your diet to one that is less prone to causing indigestion. Healthy eating, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, does make an impact on stomach pain.
  • Exercise Exercise may create pain at first, but over time it will make it easier for your muscles to overcome pain and discomfort. In addition, exercise is a very powerful anxiety reduction tool, so exercise could have added benefits for helping you overcome your anxiety issues.

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.

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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