Anxiety is not just an emotional issue. Anxiety causes very real physical symptoms that can disrupt your ability to live a high quality of life. Treating anxiety is not just about controlling your stress, but also controlling how your mind and body are affected by the symptoms.
Nausea is a common anxiety symptom. Nausea may occur with or without the urge to vomit. Nausea from anxiety can be a considerable barrier to your ability to deal with your hectic schedule. Like other symptoms of anxiety, nausea can be unpredictable, and affect your ability to perform at your best at home, work, school, and in your relationships with your friends and family.
Feel Like Throwing Up?
Nausea may be caused by anxiety, or it may be caused by an illness or poor eating habits. Our free 7 minute anxiety test can help you determine if your anxiety is causing your nausea, how severe it is, how it compares to others, and how to control it.
Can Anxiety Cause Nausea?
Nausea is your body's reaction to anything it doesn't want or understand. Eat too much? Nausea. Get an illness? Nausea. Spin around in a circle? Nausea. Not get enough sleep? Nausea. Run too fast? Nausea.
It should come as little surprise that anxiety causes nausea as well. Its intensity is largely related to the causes and types of anxiety you're experiencing. If you haven't yet, take my free 7 minute anxiety test, where you can get an exact snapshot of what type of anxiety you're dealing with and how it affects you.
We've all seen those movie scenes where the main character experiences something truly frightening and their reaction to that fear is to throw up. They experience a shooting, or they barely survive a traumatic event, and the first thing their body wants to do is vomit because their primary symptom at the time is nausea.
It is one of the most common anxiety symptoms. But why does it happen and what can you do about it?
What Causes Nausea From Anxiety?
Anxiety related nausea comes from a variety of different issues.
For most people with anxiety, the nausea is caused by stress. For others, the anxiety itself can lead to the development of nausea separate to the stress response.
How Stress Causes Nausea - A Natural Part of the Fight and Flight System
Anxiety is a natural response, and in small doses, it's actually healthy. Some of the symptoms of anxiety - including nausea - are designed to tell your brain that there is something dangerous or new so that you make a smart decision with your next action.
But when under stress without any present danger, that nausea can be distressing. When faced with stress, the body goes into "fight or flight mode" and triggers the autonomic nervous system - specifically activating the sympathetic nervous system and inhibiting the parasympthatic nervous system.
This action then releases epinephrine, which is often referred to as "adrenaline." Additional stress may also trigger other adrenal related hormones. Those hormones alter the stomach lining, alter food digestion, take blood away from the digestive system, cause hyperventilation (which over-oxygenates the bloodstream), cause dizziness, and more.
Stress can also cause muscle tension in your abdomen, and that added tension may be squeezing your stomach in a way that leads to feeling nauseated.
How Anxiety Causes Nausea
Stress and anxiety are often linked, as anxiety itself can be both caused by stress and create stress. But there are also ways that anxiety itself can lead to nausea in a way that is separate from stress, including:
- Anxiety can make someone "hypersensitive" to the way their body feels. This means that a small amount of "normal" nausea that you otherwise could ignore can feel like severe nausea that is difficult to control.
- Anxiety is a known trigger of issues like motion sickness, so some people with anxiety tend to have worse nausea during car rides and other similar movements.
- Anxiety changes the neurotransmitter levels in the body, like serotonin. Serotonin also plays a role in the reactions of the gut. Thus, it is possible that the neurotransmitters are triggering the nausea signals.
Of course, anxiety itself is stress, so all of the stress responses are common with those that have frequent or chronic anxiety.
How to Cure Anxiety Nausea
In the case of nausea from anxiety, the nausea itself isn't dangerous and unlikely to be indicative of a health problem. Instead, to control your nausea, you need to control your anxiety. Chances are your body is experiencing a great deal of stress from your daily, persistent anxiety.
Several strategies for fighting anxiety include:
- Jogging Jogging is a powerful tool for fighting anxiety. It tires your muscles, which relax the amount of stress that your muscles put on digestion, and it releases endorphins: "feel good" neurotransmitters that improve mood. It also regulates hormones and depletes adrenaline, which can help control anxiety.
- Herbal Supplements You cannot and should not take any medication without a doctor's supervision. Herbal supplements provide a natural alternative to many prescription medications and may be free of side effects. For adults, Valerian root, Passionflower, and Kava may be effective. For children or pregnant women, it's best to talk with a doctor/nutritionist.
- Deep Breathing Deep breathing is one of several stress reduction techniques that are effective for controlling current stress. Deep breathing involves taking slow, controlled breaths in order to get your heart and mind under control. One method is to sit in a chair and breathe in slowly through your nose for 5 seconds (filling your stomach first), holding for 4 seconds, and then breathing out through pursed lips slowly (7 seconds is ideal). Repeat 10 times. Other relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation and visualization.
- Light and Healthy Eating Your nutrition doesn't necessarily affect your anxiety nausea. But it can affect the severity of the nausea. Heavy, fattening, unhealthy meals tend to lead to more nausea than healthy meals. However, _make sure you eat_. An empty stomach can lead to more nausea than a full stomach when you suffer from anxiety.
- Drink Water Like healthy eating, water can help keep your body nourished without any ingredients that exacerbate your upset stomach. In addition, it's not uncommon for dehydration to lead to more anxiety, so drinking water can actually be its own anxiety treatment.
- OTC Medicines Tums, peppermint, and Pepto-Bismol may also provide temporary relief for anxiety-related nausea. They can be used for nausea that occurs on rare occasion, but should not be used by those that experience regular, persistent nausea from anxiety.
These are all quick strategies to reduce anxiety nausea. However, fighting anxiety is a long term issue. If you experience a great deal of anxiety at home, at work, at school, or in social situations, then you need to learn effective solutions for controlling that anxiety. Once your anxiety is controlled, the nausea will decrease.
Learning to Cope With Anxiety is Crucial - Stop Anxiety Nausea Forever
Anxiety isn't something you want to get rid of with drugs or by self-medicating. It's something you need to control, by learning to better handle your anxiety. Once you know why and how you're suffering from anxiety, you can use tools like desensitization to prevent anxiety once and for all.
When anxiety causes your nausea, the key is not to treat the nausea itself - rather, it's to learn how to control your anxiety. Once your anxiety is under control, the nausea will go away with it.
Take our 7 minute anxiety test - it will give you an idea of what's causing your anxiety and the next steps towards treating it.
Only when you know what's causing your anxiety and how can you effectively find solutions that will prevent it from ever coming back.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Aug 07, 2018.