Butterflies In Stomach: Controlling Anxiety
By: Michael Puskar
Updated July 07, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Erika Schad, LCP, CWLC
If you've ever been nervously excited, you've likely experienced the fluttery feeling known as "butterflies in your stomach." This feeling can arise in a variety of situations, from meeting someone for a first date to giving an important speech to a large audience. But why is it known as butterflies in the stomach, and what is that feeling trying to tell you?
What Causes Butterflies and Anxiety?
Having "butterflies in your stomach" usually refers to short-term anxiety caused by specific events. For example, people who experience this sensation will often get it when anticipating and during performances, like public speaking, taking a test, and music recitals.
This contrasts with chronic anxiety, which can stem from work stress, relationship issues, fitting in at school, at countless other situations that can cause excessive worrying. However, persistent or not, anxiety has general characteristics regardless of the scenario, which can vary in severity.
Everyone experiences some form of anxiety. It's an ordinary part of life. While it may seem like others around you are calm and collected, rest assured, they all experience anxiety, and often without showing it.
Even for those who suffer from an anxiety disorder with persistent symptoms, it's one of the most common mental health conditions. Approximately 19 percent of all adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder, yet even those with severe symptoms find ways to overcome it through treatment.
Symptoms Related to Butterflies in the Stomach
- A fluttery feeling in the stomach
- The feeling of having a 'knot' in your stomach
- Increased heart rate
- Increased breathing rate
- Sweating and clamminess
Where Does This Feeling Come From?
Obviously, there aren't butterflies fluttering around your stomach, but what causes this distinct feeling? You've likely heard of the "fight or flight" response-the nervous system's way of preparing the body for danger. When this kicks in, usually in a situation that's causing you anxiety, your body releases adrenaline. This increases your heart rate and redirects blood away from your stomach and toward your arms and legs (preparing you for fight or flight). The reduced blood flow to your stomach causes that 'fluttery' sensation. While fleeing a hungry predator may no longer be a common problem, your body produces the same chemicals when you feel as though you need to protect yourself. This can occur whether preparing for a big speech or a big date.
What Is This Feeling Trying to Tell Us?
This fluttery feeling is your body signaling the approach of an uncomfortable or stressful situation. It's literally a "gut feeling." When this happens, you know you need to be on your guard and have a heightened awareness of your surroundings.
Butterflies in Relationships
At the beginning of a relationship, everything is new and exciting, and feelings of anxiety and excitement can easily blend. However, as the relationship progresses, feelings of butterflies in the stomach may be a sign that something is amiss. Are you overly preoccupied with your appearance when around your significant other? Do you feel as though you're walking on eggshells, worrying about what to say? Are you constantly worrying about whether he or she will leave you?
These kinds of worries should not be present in a truly loving, supportive relationship. If the fluttery feeling is due to how happy and secure you feel, that's a good thing. If the feeling seems closer to anxiety and causes you distress on a daily basis, you may need to reevaluate whether or not your needs are being met.
A certain degree of anxiety is normal in relationships, especially when you care deeply about your significant other. However, daily, debilitating anxiety is a symptom of a much deeper problem. If you're feeling this way in your current relationship, sit back and try to acknowledge where this anxiety stems from. Do you feel as though you aren't a priority? Do you feel ignored or misjudged? Has your partner given you reasons to distrust them? Are they overly controlling?
Some causes of anxiety in your relationship could be unhealthy. Once you've identified the problem, speak to your partner about it. If they can't respect your emotions and reevaluate their behavior, it may be time to rethink whether or not this partnership is good for you. While it may be hard to end a relationship into which you've invested so much of yourself, it's much better, in the long run, to rid yourself of all of that unnecessary anxiety
How to Alleviate Feelings of Anxiety
While there aren't any quick fixes for chronic anxiety, certain everyday measures will help relieve some of the symptoms and bring more peace to your life.
- Practice intentional breathing.
Find a quiet place free of distractions. Sit down and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, counting to five as you breathe in. Now exhale through your mouth, counting to five as you breathe out. Focus on your breaths as you do this, and become aware of any distracting thoughts. If you find that any anxieties or worries are beginning to pop up as you are breathing, refocus your mind on the breathing itself. Even allowing yourself fifteen minutes of intentional breathing in the morning can greatly reduce your levels of anxiety throughout the day.
- Take care of yourself and declutter your surroundings.
The importance of a good night's sleep can't be overstated. Taking care of your body is the first step to taking care of your mind. Make sure you're drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Exercise releases endorphins which promote feelings of happiness. While it may be difficult to completely change your lifestyle overnight, taking small steps to be more mindful of the way you treat yourself every day will pay off in the long run.
Decluttering your surroundings can also help declutter your mind. Are you still hanging on to your old high school notebooks? Clothes you haven't worn for years? Old art supplies covered in dust? Now is the time to get rid of everything that isn't serving you. While it may not seem like it will make a difference, getting rid of unnecessary clutter can take a huge weight off of your shoulders and help you feel more in control.
- Challenge your negative thoughts.
Anxiety often stems from worrying about something in the future, and negative thoughts can often spiral into even more negative thoughts. This can result in keeping you in a perpetual state of anxiety. When you begin to feel anxiety, stop and ask yourself what's making you feel that way. Are you worried about the exam you need to take next week? The date you're going on tomorrow night? An important conversation you need to have with someone?
Ask yourself if these thoughts are based in reality, or if you're just being too hard on yourself. You don't know if you're going to flunk the exam, you're just nervous that you will. Likewise, you don't know that your date is going to be awkward, you're just afraid that you won't be able to express yourself. By challenging your negative thoughts and trying to view positive outcomes instead, you can slowly begin to eradicate your anxiety.
- Accept uncertainty.
Anxiety stems from the simple fact that we don't know what the future holds. Those prone to anxiety often immediately visualize the worst-case scenario and assume that every negative thought they have is based on reality. When you learn to accept that the future is uncertain, you'll be more focused on the present. Take steps every day to bring yourself closer to where you want to be in life, even if the actions you take are small. The more you feel in control of your present, the more you'll feel in control of what's ahead.
- Visualize positive outcomes and plan for the day ahead.
You may feel anxiety over not having complete control over how your life plays out. While nothing is set in stone, there are certain things you can do to feel more in control. Keep a calendar and write down all appointments, deadlines, and important events. Every day, make a 'to do' list of what you want to get accomplished and check off the boxes as you complete the tasks. If there's something important coming up that you are anxious about, visualize that particular event having a positive outcome. Imagine how you can behave and communicate in a way that promotes this positive outcome instead of focusing on all of the ways it could go wrong.
- Surround yourself with positivity.
This could be people who bring out the best in you, certain music that calms you, or even a tea that promotes relaxation. Whatever it is that brings you joy, try to incorporate it into your everyday life. Surrounding yourself with things that make you happy makes it more difficult for the negative thoughts to creep in. Every time you feel as though you're getting anxious, try to take a second to relax and refocus. Call a good friend, take a long bath, sniff some calming essential oils, or watch an uplifting film.
How BetterHelp Can Help
Sometimes anxiety can be so overwhelming that it negatively affects your everyday life. If you find that you can't alleviate your anxiety with any of the above tactics, there is no shame in getting professional help. A licensed therapist at BetterHelp can help you regain control over your emotions and reduce your feelings of anxiety. Read below for reviews from people who used BetterHelp to manage their anxiety.
"David has helped me manage my anxiety and self esteem in a very constructive way. He's extremely supportive. His personality is perfect for me."
"Kelli has given me effective ways to manage my anxiety that I utilize every day. She has also helped me gain a new perspective on self care and gave me the building blocks to heal myself. I have made so much progress from working with her and will continue doing so with the guidance she has provided me."
Although the feeling of butterflies in your stomach is a temporary sensation, it can still be hard to keep under control, and a little stressful at times. Hopefully, by utilizing the tips provided for you in this article, you will be able to stay calm in any situation that comes your way in the future. It's perfectly natural to feel butterflies in your stomach, but when they get in the way of you making the most out of your day, you should take action. Take the first step today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you calm down anxiety?
If you're suffering from an anxiety disorder or having anxious thoughts you're likely looking for ways to reduce anxiety and panic attacks. When you're feeling anxious one of the best things to do is acknowledge that you're feeling anxious so you can begin to calm down. Taking deep breaths to calm your anxious thoughts is another good way to begin reducing the effects of depression and anxiety. If you're having regular or frequent anxiety and panic attacks, seek professional help from a licensed medical doctor or therapy professional.
Can anxiety be controlled?
Controlling anxiety disorders is possible with a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. People who suffer from social anxiety can benefit from talking to a doctor or therapist if anxiety and panic attacks have become a part of their everyday lives. Feeling anxious from time-to-time about important or stressful events is normal. However, feeling anxious most of the time and being unable to rid yourself of feelings of anxiety is often a sign of a social anxiety disorder.
How can I reduce anxiety naturally?
If you suffer from regular anxiety and panic attacks and you're looking for natural ways to reduce your feelings of anxiety, one of the best things you can do is to remove all sources of additional stress from your life. Feelings of anxiety often stem from situations we can't control or are uncertain about. People with anxiety disorders can reduce this level of uncertainty by removing things and people from their lives that trigger or aggravate anxiety symptoms. Social anxiety often stems from interactions with toxic people or unresolved behavioral issues from childhood.
How can I control my anxious mind?
Anxiety and depression often creep up on us gradually as more issues go unresolved in our lives. Recognizing that it's normal to feel anxious and overwhelmed can help you begin to control feelings of anxiety and stress. When you're feeling anxious, learn to release resistance to the idea that it's unnatural to experience anxiety and stress.
Giving yourself permission to fully experience your feelings when you're feeling anxious can help you to identify your depression and anxiety triggers. When you learn to understand what's behind the symptoms of anxiety, you can begin to consciously change your response to people and situations that aggravate your depression and anxiety.
What to drink to calm nerves?
Millions of people in the United States and worldwide experience the negative symptoms of depression and anxiety each year. If you're looking for soothing drinks to help curb anxiety and panic attacks start with the basics and drink water. If your body is dehydrated you may begin to feel like you're having anxiety symptoms.
Ward off anxiety attacks by staying properly hydrated throughout the day. When you're experiencing anxiety, drinking warm soothing drinks like herbal teas can also help to reduce the effects of anxiety and panic attacks.
There are some herbal teas that are designed specifically to help calm your nerves and reduce the symptoms of panic and anxiety. If you're using drink therapy to manage anxiety Stay away from energy drinks and coffees that can aggravate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How do anxiety disorders affect weight?
Anxiety disorders deprive many people of their sense of control which may affect their weight, either up or down. Weight management, weight loss, and weight gain are issues that people with anxiety may deal with.
Stress and anxiety may contribute to weight gain because our bodies release large doses of cortisol when we’re anxious. Cortisol may cause weight gain, especially around the waist area. Constant worry and anxiety also cause some people to have trouble with weight management, weight loss, and lack of appetite. As worry consumes your thoughts, time flies by and you don’t even realize that you’ve missed several meals. Another reason that people with anxiety disorders experience weight loss is that they tend to have nervous movements such as ticks, legs shaking, or feeling a need to pace back and forth.
Whether you’re dealing with weight loss or weight gain, it’s important to keep regular, healthy eating habits when you’re dealing with anxiety.
What is the main cause of anxiety attacks?
People who suffer from an anxiety disorder or social anxiety are in constant fear of something going wrong in their lives. This fear is ever-present and can activate the stress response and the fight-or-flight response in someone who has experienced anxiety.
People with a generalized anxiety disorder always feel anxious regardless of what the circumstances are around them. This is often due to the memory of a fearful stimulus or an overproduction in cortisol or adrenaline in the brain.
In most cases, while there is no imminent danger, once panic or anxiety attacks have been set in motion, an anxiety attack is a difficult process to stop. This is especially true if you've been experiencing chronic anxiety and depression for a long period. The belief that one is constantly in imminent danger is the driving factor behind anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Is anxiety a mental illness?
Anxiety disorder is a mental disorder that affects the everyday functioning of people who suffer from chronic anxiety disorders. Mental illnesses affect changes in thinking, behavior, or emotion. Anxiety, depression, and similar disorders can all affect thinking, behavior, and emotion. People who suffer from social anxiety feel anxious in social situations.
According to the American Psychiatry Association (APA), anxiety disorders are prevalent in America—anxiety affects over 25 million people in the country.
The National Institute Mental Health gives us a better understanding of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and the potential for a panic attack. There are a wide variety of anxiety disorders and anxiety is a symptom of many other mental health disorders as well. The Institute of Mental Health cautions us to be serious about anxiety disorders that interfere with work, school, and day to day life.
Anxiety disorders fall into many different categories. The Institute of Mental Health lists the following anxiety disorders:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- specific phobia
- social anxiety phobia
- obsessive-compulsive disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
- panic attack disorder
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the prevalence of generalized disorder (GAD) was higher among women from 2001-2003. about 23% of women had generalized disorder (GAD) as compared with about 14% for males the disorder (GAD). Also, about 31% of all adults in the U.S. experience anxiety disorder (GAD). All rights reserved on the NIMH website.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is a global nonprofit organization that dedicates its work to the prevention, cure, and treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, and panic attack disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has over 1,800 professional members and providers of mental health services and they contribute the latest information about generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and share evidence-based information.
ADAA states that it’s important to be clear on the connection between anxiety and the functioning of your heart. Having anxiety or a panic attack may cause heart palpitations, but they don’t usually cause a heart attack unless they’re combined with some other health condition. The most important connection between anxiety and your heart is the constant worry that you may have a heart attack, even when there is no underlying heart condition to prompt your fear. All rights reserved on the ADAA website.
What are the 6 types of anxiety disorders?
People who experience symptoms of anxiety and depression may feel anxious in different ways. The Anxiety and Depression Association has identified six types of anxiety disorders associated with anxiety and depression. These are 1. Generalized anxiety disorder, 2. Social anxiety disorder, 3. Specific phobias, 4. Panic disorder, 5. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, 6. Post-traumatic stress disorder.
What is severe anxiety?
Severe anxiety, depression, and social anxiety disorders can become debilitating if left untreated. Debilitating social anxiety and depression can affect a person's mood, thoughts, and behavior in such a way that it can become difficult for them to function in their everyday lives. For example, people with a severe social anxiety disorder may avoid public settings altogether. This is a debilitating factor when anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders keep people from going to work or school.
What vitamins are good for anxiety?
There are some vitamins that are good for managing mental health anxiety. Taking a daily multivitamin can provide your mind and body with the added nutrients needed to stay healthy and well. Talk to your medical or mental health provider about specific vitamins and herbs that are good for controlling anxiety.
Is Magnesium good for anxiety?
According to mental health anxiety experts, magnesium is good for controlling anxiety. The reason for this is that it helps the body to naturally relax. This natural relaxation in muscles reduces tension in the body that can cause or contribute to heightened levels of anxiety in the body.
Does CBD help anxiety?
According to researchers, CBD has shown the benefits of reducing the levels of anxiety in chronic anxiety sufferers. The chemicals in CBD elicit a natural stress-relief response when CBD is used. Talk to a medical or mental health professional directly to learn more about the benefits of using CBD for managing anxiety.
How do you deal with things you can't control?
When you're dealing with things you can't control, the first thing to do is to remain as calm as possible while you assess the situation. Figure out your role in the situation and determine what things you can control. (For example, you can control your attitude and how you respond.) Identify the best steps to take to resolve the situation and proceed from a place of calm acceptance and awareness to move forward.
How do I stop overthinking everything?
The key to stopping overthinking is to learn to focus on the present. If you're overthinking, you're likely focused on a past event or a future event rather than the here-and-now. Ruminating on thoughts and circumstances that aren't happening now can lead to overthinking and heightened levels of anxiety. Talk to a therapist or mind-body practitioner to learn how to stay more focused on the here-and-now.
How do you clear your mind?
Participating in positive problem-solving techniques like deep breathing, yoga, and psychotherapy are all great methods to use to clear your mind. Learning how to focus your thoughts on the present can drastically reduce anxiety and stress levels in your life. The licensed professional therapists at BetterHelp can provide you with one-on-one advice on how to clear your mind with ease.
Is anxiety a chemical imbalance?
Anxiety and depression have been linked to a reduction in the chemicals that are responsible for the production of "happy" hormones. People who are suffering from mental disorders often suffer from a chemical imbalance where there is either too much or too little of a specific chemical needed to maintain their state of mind
How does anxiety start?
Anxiety starts with worry about impending doom or a negative outcome even in the face of calm circumstances. People who suffer from anxiety have often experienced a trauma in their lives that causes them to be fearful of circumstances or people that remind them of the event. In some cases, this heightened state of anxiety can occur when things are still calm.
What hormone causes anxiety?
An excess of the production of adrenaline and cortisol are responsible for the feelings of anxiousness and panic associated with mental health anxiety. In most cases, one or both of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are produced in the brain in excess. This is the cause of the chemical imbalance.