Why Do We Get The "Butterflies In Your Stomach" Feeling?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated March 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

If you've ever felt nervous or excited, you may have experienced a fluttering feeling or sensation, often referred to as "butterflies." This feeling of butterflies in your stomach might arise in various situations, from meeting someone new to giving an important speech. It may also be common to experience butterflies in the stomach in the early stages of dating someone. 

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What causes the feeling of "butterflies" in your stomach?

The feeling of "butterflies" may refer to experiencing nervousness caused by specific events. For example, people who experience these sensations may get them when anticipating performing or during a presentation.  

Others may sense these feelings when meeting someone new, in the presence of a crush, during a new relationship, starting a new job, or during other events involving any degree of the unknown. At times, having butterflies means you're falling in love with someone, while at other times, it can be an uncomfortable indicator that you feel nervous about something.

This stomach feeling may be experienced alongside an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition. Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that may cause chronic excessive worrying that interferes negatively with daily life. Recognizing the differences between butterflies in the stomach and anxiety disorders can help you understand the difference.  

Common symptoms of an anxiety disorder which might cause the feeling of butterflies may include the following:

  • Feeling restless or on-edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping difficulties, such as trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or restlessness
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Muscle tension
  • Experiencing issues with the digestive system, not wanting to eat
  • An increase in blood pressure

This nervous feeling may be normal 

Many individuals experience the feeling of butterflies in their stomachs on a less consistent basis, though these feelings may be temporary and are often brought on by a specific, emotional, situation. It is also important to note that for some people, the absence of butterflies is completely normal, not everyone gets butterflies in the same way. Some people may give different words to the feeling in your stomach, such as “tingles” or “heebie-jeebies.” 

If you're unsure if you've experienced this feeling from being nervous or stressed, there are some common symptoms related to "butterflies in my stomach." If you experience the below sensations, it may be a sign of this phenomenon:

  • Nausea
  • A fluttery feeling in the stomach
  • The feeling of having a "knot" in your stomach
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating and clamminess
  • A pleasant tingling after interacting with someone you feel romantic love or sexual interest in

Fight or flight response

You may have heard of the "fight or flight" response." It is the way that each of our own nervous systems prepare the body for possible danger. When this response kicks in, usually in a situation that's causing you stress, your body may release adrenaline. When your body feels safe once more, dopamine may be released. 

The fight or flight response may increase your heart rate and direct blood away from your stomach and toward your arms and legs, preparing you to fight or flee. The reduced blood flow to your stomach may trigger a "fluttery" sensation. A part of the nervous system called the enteric nervous system, which refers to the nerve cells found in the digestive system, is often involved as well.

Once your body stops its fight or flight response and calms your own nervous system, more blood returns to the stomach region, and the nervous feeling begins to subside. In the case of an anxiety disorder, the sense of “butterflies in my stomach” may not subside as quickly, which may indicate the benefit of reaching out to a cognitive-behavioral therapist. 

Positive "butterflies" in your stomach or other areas of the body brought on by a romantic or sexual interest may be due to arousal, love, or related pleasurable activities or contact. Your heart may also race, or you might find yourself blushing. These symptoms are also due to a heightened nervous system, but not one brought on by danger. When the brain feels nervous, it may send that information to the stomach through the vagus nerve, stimulating a feeling of butterflies or a swoony sensation in your stomach or other regions.

Positive "butterflies" in your stomach or other areas of the body brought on by a romantic or sexual interest may be due to arousal, love, or related pleasurable activities or contact. Your heart may also race, or you might find yourself blushing. These symptoms are also due to a heightened nervous system, but not one brought on by danger. When the brain feels nervous, it may send that information to the stomach through the vagus nerve, stimulating a feeling of butterflies or a swoony sensation in your stomach or other regions.

Feeling "butterflies" may signify an approaching uncomfortable or stressful situation or a nervous excitement from a new love interest. 

While getting butterflies around people you like may seem like a good sign, relationship expert Tia Goldstein says, according to recent research, it may mean something is amiss or that you feel unsure about the relationship. Your body may be telling you to be on guard, stay motivated, or have a heightened awareness of your surroundings. 

How to alleviate nervousness or anxiety 

If you are experiencing butterflies in your stomach or regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, there are things you can do that may help ease symptoms.

1. Practice intentional breathing

Research shows that breathwork is an effective way to reduce feelings of anxiety and nervousness. Breathwork exercises may be a powerful way to reduce stress and come to a place of calm and peace. To effectively practice intentional breathing, try to find a quiet place free of distractions. Follow the following steps: 

  1. Sit down and close your eyes. 
  2. Take a deep breath through your nose, counting to five as you breathe in. 
  3. Now exhale through your mouth, counting to five as you breathe out. 
  4. Focus on your breaths as you do this and become aware of any distracting thoughts. 
  5. Allow thoughts to "float" through your mind without focusing on them or giving them much attention. 
  6. Keep your primary focus on your breathing.

When you're done with the exercise, ask yourself how you feel. You may find that the physical symptoms of anxiety have gone.  

2. Practice self-care

Scientists have shown links between healthy habits and reduced anxiety. Ensure you're drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly

While it may be difficult to completely change your lifestyle overnight, taking small steps to be more mindful of how you treat yourself every day might be beneficial in the long term. 

3. Challenge your negative thoughts

Anxiety may stem from worrying about the future, and negative thoughts could spiral into more negative thoughts. This cycle may keep you in a perpetual state of worry. When you begin to feel anxiety, it could help to ask yourself what's making you feel that way.  

Studies show that it is beneficial to journal your thoughts to see any negative thought patterns that you may have. This process might also help you analyze and challenge these negative thoughts, find where they are coming from, and potentially replace them with more positive ones.

4. Accept uncertainty

Anxiety may stem from not knowing what the future holds. Those prone to anxiety may visualize the worst-case scenario and assume that a negative thought must be realistic. When you learn to accept that the future can be uncertain, it may help you to be more focused on the present. 

A research-based coping mechanism for working with difficult uncertainty or situations you don't want to accept is radical acceptance. It is often used in the therapy module of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and involves learning to accept what you cannot control. 

5. Visualize positive outcomes and plan for the day ahead of you

You may worry about not having complete control over how your life plays out. While you may be unable to control everything, there are some skills you can practice to feel more in control. 

It may help to keep a calendar and write down all appointments, deadlines, and important events to prepare for what's ahead and feel more in control. Consider making a to-do list of what you want to accomplish and check off the boxes as you complete tasks. 

This act of checking off boxes may feel rewarding. If there's something important coming up that you are anxious about, visualize that event having a positive outcome. Imagine how you can behave to promote this positive outcome instead of focusing on how it could go wrong.

6. Surround yourself with positivity

Try to incorporate what brings you joy into your everyday life. Surrounding yourself with things that make you happy may make it more difficult for negative thoughts to creep in. 

Whenever you feel like you're experiencing symptoms of anxiety or stress, it may help you to relax and refocus. Call a good friend, take a long bath, sniff some calming essential oils, watch an uplifting film, or partake in anything that makes you feel happy and brings you peace.

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7. Seek help if you think you could have an anxiety disorder

Anxiety or stress might sometimes feel so overwhelming that it negatively affects your life. If you have difficulty alleviating your symptoms or find that high stress levels are affecting your life, it may be beneficial to seek help from a licensed professional. 

A licensed therapist may help you regain control over your emotions and overcome feelings of stress and anxiety, they may explain strategies for how to respond to these feelings and move forward. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been proven effective in treating anxiety. You might consider an online cognitive-behavioral therapy treatment method if you are nervous about seeing a counselor in person.  

Studies have shown that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. Additionally, for patients, online therapy has the benefit of being more convenient and affordable than in-person therapy. If you're interested in trying it, online platforms such as BetterHelp often offer a vast database of mental health professionals with varying backgrounds. 

Takeaway

It can be common to experience the feeling of "butterflies in your stomach" from time to time. The fluttery sensation we may get in our gut can be positive and negative, depending on the situation. However, it often indicates that our nervous system is activated.  

You may benefit from therapy if you're having trouble managing these feelings or they're interfering with your daily life. Consider reaching out to a counselor to get started.

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