Butterflies In Stomach: Controlling Anxiety
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 18, 2018
Reviewer Erika Schad, LCP, CWLC
If you've ever felt the nervous excitement, you've likely felt the fluttery feeling known as 'butterflies in your stomach.' This feeling can arise in a variety of different situations, from meeting someone for a first date to giving an important speech to a large audience. When it happens, we instantly recognize it. But why is it known as butterflies in the stomach, and what is that feeling trying to tell you?
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
Where does this feeling come from?
Obviously, there aren't butterflies fluttering around in your stomach, but what causes this distinct feeling? You've likely heard of what is known as the 'fight or flight' response - the nervous symptom's way of preparing the body for what may happen. When this kicks in, usually in a situation that is causing you a bit of anxiety, your body releases adrenaline. This increases your heart rate and redirects blood away from your stomach and towards your arms and legs (preparing you for fight or flight). The reduced blood flow to your stomach causes the 'fluttery' sensation you feel. While these days running away from a hungry predator may not 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?
All science aside, this fluttery feeling is your body telling you that you're about to put yourself in a situation that may be uncomfortable or stressful. Have you ever heard of a 'gut feeling'? When this happens, you know that 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 are walking on eggshells, worrying about what to say? Are you constantly worrying about whether he or she will leave you?
In a truly loving, supportive relationship, these kinds of worries should not be present. If the fluttery feeling is due to how happy and secure they make you feel, that is a good thing. If the fluttery feeling feels 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?
There are some reasons why you could be feeling anxiety in your relationship, and many of them point towards unhealthy behaviors. Once you have pinpointed what the problem is, speak to your partner about it. If they can't respect your emotions and reevaluate the way that they have been treating you, it may be time to rethink whether or not this partnership is good for you. While it may be hard to end a relationship that you have invested so much of yourself into, 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, there are certain measures you can take every day that will help alleviate some of the symptoms and bring more peace to your life.
- Practice intentional breathing -
Find a quiet place free of all distractions. Sit down and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nostrils, counting to five as you breathe in. Now exhale, counting to five as you breathe out. Focus on your breaths as you do this, and try to block out 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 is often overlooked. Taking care of your body is the first step to taking care of your mind. Make sure you are 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 that are 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 of keeping you in a perpetual state of anxiety. When you begin to feel anxiety, stop and ask yourself what is 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 that 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 in reality. When you learn to accept the fact 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 the future, even if the steps you take are very small. The more you feel in control of your present, the more you'll feel in control of your future.
- 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 is 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 down, 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 make it more difficult for the negative thoughts to creep into your brain. Every time you feel as though you're getting anxious, try to take a second to relax and refocus yourself. Call a good friend, take a long bath, sniff some calming essential oils or watch an uplifting film.
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.