Why Does My Anxiety Nausea Happen And Is It Real?
By Sarah Fader
Updated August 16, 2019
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
If you're struggling with anxiety nausea, you don't have to deal with it alone. Most people wouldn't connect tummy troubles to worry, but nausea can be a very real and distressing side effect of anxiety. You deserve to lead a life free of the distress caused by this condition. When you're feeling peaceful, you're living your best life.
The Reality of Anxiety Nausea
Anxiety and anxiety-related disorders are among the most common mental health issues in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. Because it is so common, much is known about treatment and recovery. Therapy has proved a successful means to combat anxiety nausea. While you won't be directly treating the nausea itself, you'll find that as your anxiety subsides, so will its physical manifestations. Some remedies your therapist might recommend include physical exercises, breathing exercises and herbal supplements. We will discuss these remedies later in the article.
How Anxiety Nausea Sets In
Your tummy rolls, your mouth gets moist, and you take a deep breath because you're 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 your body is under stress.
Does Everyone Get Anxiety Nausea?
The short answer is 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 an unsettled feeling in your digestive system, mimicking the way your brain feels 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 anxiety nausea is. Not everyone who gets anxiety gets nausea regularly, and sometimes it's so minor, 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 a disease itself. When anxious, the body responds 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 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 how stressed you are or how severe the anxiety. And just because you have anxiety nausea, it doesn't mean you're 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. 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, but this only happens with the most severe anxiety nausea. 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. You may also experience a few "practice" dry heaves that lets your body know what's coming.
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 make you stressed, or cut down your exposure as much as possible. Take measures that help you 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 the causes of your anxiety.
Physical Exercise. 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, and your adrenaline levels deplete faster, helping control your anxiety. Physical exercise also regulates your hormone levels and can lead to more balanced body chemicals 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 you aren't dwelling on the source of your anxiety. Breathing in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth sends signals to your body that helps it understand the fear response is no longer needed. Exhaling for a slightly longer period than you inhale produces this effect more quickly.
Herbal Supplements. If you're still struggling to end that sick feeling, 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 supplements.
There are also supplements that help address the anxiety itself. 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 to avoid additional stomach or other problems.
Eating. Eating foods which are gentle on the stomach-not too spicy, greasy, or 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 can also have anxiety as a symptom.
Over the Counter Antiemetics. Some people also take over the counter antiemetic 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. They're intended for a different cause of nausea and work by coating the inside of the stomach.
Antihistamines like Benadryl are also not very helpful-but they can be used because they interfere with the part of the brain that sends messages to be nauseous, stopping them from getting to the digestive system. This will only work in very mild cases and may also make you 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 happening often. It can lead to damage of your esophagus if it's not treated.
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 doublecheck for any interactions. For example, prochlorperazine is linked with causing severe anxiety despite being an anti-nausea medication, so you might end up feeling even more anxious than before.
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 is the best option. If your anxiety is severe, then it's 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 relax as much as possible, and it will likely go away. Everyone is different, so it's important to find out what works for you.
How BetterHelp Can Help
Talking with a therapist or another licensed mental health professional can be very helpful in treating anxiety, including anxiety that produces an upset stomach. Search for providers who say they work with anxiety. BetterHelp is an online platform available to you that has trained counselors who use proven methods to ease anxiety and the accompanying nausea.
Anxiety can be triggered by going to a counselor or doctor's office, which is why BetterHelp is a great resource for those who need the security of a familiar environment. You can use the service in the comfort of your home, and there are plenty of counselors available, so you can be sure you find the right fit. See below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from clients experiencing similar issues.
"Gregory was responsive, direct, and helpful during the time we worked together. I would recommend working with him if you struggle with anxiety. Very approachable and nonjudgmental methodology."
"Carmen has helped provide me with tools that help me better manage my anxieties and insight into reducing my stress and finding balance within the different activities in my life. She is supportive, encouraging, and helps me to see things from a more positive outlook."
Anxiety is never fun, and when it's combined with nausea, it becomes even more difficult. If you're ready to take control of your life and move on to a healthier and happier future, don't wait! Make that first step today.