Why Does My Anxiety Nausea Happen And Is It Real?
By Sarah Fader
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
That sick sinking feeling. Your tummy rolls, your mouth gets moist, and you take a deep breath because you're pretty certain you're going to throw up. You're already anxious, and this just makes it worse. Anxiety nausea is real, and for anyone with severe anxiety, they know just how frustrating it can be to add sickness to emotional distress. While nausea is more common than getting sick, it's a sign that your body is under stress if you're feeling anxious as well.
Does Everyone Get Anxiety Nausea?
The short answer - yes. While not everyone experiences anxiety on a regular basis, when it gets severe enough the body is programmed to make you feel nauseous. Nausea is simply the unsettled feeling that your digestive system gets, so it's mimicking the way your brain feels from anxiety when you're stressed. In fact, anxiety is a form of stress caused by a spike in adrenaline which heightens our senses. Stress usually affects the whole body, and there isn't a single person who doesn't understand what being stressed feels like. You've probably heard someone say that worrying made them "sick to their stomach" and that's all that anxiety nausea is. Not everyone who gets anxiety gets nausea regularly, and sometimes it's so minor that you can ignore it until it passes.
Why Does Anxiety Nausea Happen?
Lots of things make us feel sick and simply feeling like you're going to be sick isn't actually a disease itself. Being anxious activates the body to respond with physiological, psychological, and biological ways to try and bring the anxiety down. The fight or flight mechanism that is triggered suppresses the digestion system to make more resources available to deal with the stressor. While this might be the main cause, over time if stress is too high or too constant the body remains in this state which causes a constant minor suppression that leads to feeling "off" digestively. The lining of the stomach can become inflamed and irritated so that nausea happens with less of a stress response or all the time because it takes less of the stress response to trigger the irritation.
Just because you have anxiety, it doesn't mean you'll get anxiety nausea. It's often dependent on just how stressed you are or how severe your anxiety is. Just because you have anxiety nausea doesn't mean you're necessarily more anxious. It may simply mean that you are not coping with your anxiety as well as someone else who doesn't get nausea with anxiety.
What Are The Symptoms Of Anxiety Nausea
Obviously, you feel sick. The severity of how sick depends on two factors - how anxious you are, and how affected your body is. Some people might just feel a bit queasy while others may vomit. Since it's just a symptom of being stressed it's not something you have to be concerned about since it will pass once you've calmed down or taken medications for it. The only time you should be concerned is if it is a persistent, regular occurrence or if it might have been caused by something else like food poisoning.
Vomiting isn't fun, and it's only the more severe anxiety nausea responses that will get this far. For most people, it's just a feeling, or even some dry heaving without being sick. If you're vomiting you may also get symptoms of dehydration. When your body is about to vomit it prepares itself by producing excess saliva in the mouth to protect the teeth from the stomach acid when it comes up. You may also have a few "practice" dry heaves that let you know things are about to come up.
Treating Anxiety Nausea At Home
Most of the time you can deal with anxiety nausea at home since the symptoms will pass once you're feeling calmer. If you can, avoid the things that are making you stressed or cut down your exposure to them as much as possible. Take measures that help you to feel calmer. For example, breathing exercises, listening to music, taking a bath, or exercising. There are lots of things you can do to bring your stress levels down even if you can't avoid what's making you feel anxiety.
Jogging and exercise work well because they tire your muscles out which forces them to relax and releases endorphins. Endorphins help you feel good and improve your mood while your adrenaline levels will deplete more quickly which controls your anxiety. Physical exercise also regulates your hormone levels and can lead to more balanced body chemical levels to reduce your daily anxiety and overall anxiety levels, so you may not even need any other treatment.
• Breathing Exercises
One of the most common coping exercises for dealing with anxiety is deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. Deep breathing means taking controlled breaths, slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth repetitively. The repetitive action helps to empty the mind and gives you something else to focus on so that your mind isn't focused on whatever is causing you to be anxious. Breathing in deeply through the nose, and out through the mouth sends signals to your body that helps it understand the fear response isn't needed now. Exhaling for a slightly longer period than you inhale produces this effect more quickly.
• Herbal Supplements
If you're still struggling to stop feeling sick drink some ginger or mint tea. Both ginger and mint are good for the digestive system, and the hot water helps to relax the muscles of the stomach. There are some herbal supplements that work for nausea including Valerian, Passionflower, and Kava though these are not advised for children or pregnant women and should be discussed with a doctor first. If you're taking prescription anti-anxiety medications, it's essential to talk with a doctor or pharmacist before taking these because some of them do interact with supplements.
There are also supplements which can help bring your anxiety levels down, so you may not feel nausea afterward. B vitamins, especially Niacin, are especially popular for helping with anxiety and depression. Vitamin D, even if it's just from being outside in the sun for an hour or so, can help with anxiety and boost mood.
Always discuss any herbal supplements you plan to take with your trusted medical provider before you take them to avoid additional stomach or other problems.
Eating foods which are gentle and light on the stomach - not too spicy, not greasy, and not too salty, will also help to keep you feeling sick. Try to eat smaller portions rather than big meals and keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water, especially if you're vomiting and not just feeling sick. Dehydration itself can also have anxiety as a symptom.
• Over the Counter Anti-emetics
Some people also take over the counter anti-emetic medication like Dramamine to deal with persistent nausea, but you shouldn't do this for too long or too often. You should avoid medications like Pepto-Bismol or anything containing Bismuth because this can end up stopping up your digestive system and dehydrating you since they're intended for a different cause of nausea and work by coating the inside of the stomach. Anti-histamines like Benadryl also aren't very helpful but can be used because they interfere with the part of the brain where messages to be nauseous are created, stopping them from getting to the digestive system. This will only work in very mild cases and may also make you very sleepy.
When To See A Doctor About Anxiety Nausea
If you've been vomiting consistently for 24 hours, if you're getting anxiety nausea regularly enough that it's disrupting your life, or if it seems like it just won't go away it's time to see someone. Vomiting itself is a serious symptom so you want to go to a doctor if that's often happening too because it can lead to damage of your esophagus if it's not treated.
You should note when nausea happens, what's going on at the time, and what you've tried to do so far to help it.
Your doctor will likely do two things - prescribe you something for your anxiety and something for your nausea. There's a variety of different drugs you're likely to get, but it's a good idea to check any interactions double. For example, Prochlorperazine is linked with causing severe anxiety despite being an anti-nausea medication so you might end up feeling even more anxious even if you're not feeling nauseous anymore.
Will My Anxiety Nausea Go Away?
As soon as you stop feeling stressed or anxious, your brain will stop sending messages to your digestive system that suppress it, and everything will return to normal. Learning about what causes you to get anxious and how to calm yourself down is the best choice. If your anxiety is severe, then it's really a good idea to get help from a therapist or professional so that you can learn better coping mechanisms. Anxiety nausea on its own isn't something to worry about unless it gets severe or frequent so just try and calm down as much as possible, and it will likely go away. Everyone is different, so it's important to find out what works for you.
Reach Out About Anxiety
Talking with a therapist or other licensed mental health professional can be very helpful in treating and learning to manage anxiety, including anxiety that produces stomach upset. Search for providers who say they work with anxiety. Check out BetterHelp for resources or to find a licensed counselor for help with managing anxiety from the comfort of your own home and on your schedule.