Can I Really Feel Sick From Anxiety?
Updated July 28, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
Anxiety Nausea: What's the Cause?
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 feeling nauseous 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.
Psychosomatic Stress Can Be Managed
Often when our brains get overloaded, the stress can manifest physically. The stress you feel from the havoc in your brain sends signals throughout your whole body, eventually reaching your stomach and can cause nausea. The good news is, with the right help, you can overcome this condition. According to medically reviewed research, anxiety and anxiety-related disorders are among the most common mental health issues in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults. Therapy has proved a successful means to combat anxiety symptoms. While you won't be directly treating nausea itself, you'll find that as your anxiety subsides, so will its physical manifestations.
Causes of Anxiety
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.
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 anti-nausea 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.
Mental And Physical Health
There is a strong connection between anxiety nausea and your mental and physical health. In short, severe anxiety can seriously impact your quality of life.
Anxiety and depression are classified as mental health disorders and they often go hand-in-hand. When anxiety and depression exist together, it can be hard to determine if the anxiety caused the depression or vice versa. The Hope for Depression Research Foundation, an organization that focuses on medically reviewed research, describes depression as a brain disorder and a state of mind.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) makes the distinction between occasional anxiety as a response to stress and chronic anxiety that turns into generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), or an anxiety attack. It’s common for people to experience anxiety and stress temporarily. By contrast, chronic anxiety may also be a stress response, but it can become an anxiety-related disorder if it doesn’t go away or it worsens over time. Chronic anxiety will usually interfere with your work, school, family life, and other daily activities and it can seriously affect your quality of life.
Chronic anxiety and stress can cause an anxiety attack, which is also referred to as a panic attack. If your anxiety attack recurs unexpectedly and frequently it may be classified as a panic disorder. Your heart rate will increase during an anxiety attack and you may sweat, tremble, or have shortness of breath. An anxiety disorder such as anxiety nausea may also cause hunger because it releases serotonin, which affects your mood.
People that live with anxiety disorders of all types can realize positive long-term improvement when they get the proper medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment. As with any type of severe symptoms, it’s always best to speak with a trusted professional. You can reach out to your doctor or seek the help of a licensed therapist.
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 can all have calming effects. 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 - Exercise helps work well because they tire your muscles out, which forces your muscles to relax and also makes your adrenaline levels deplete faster, which helps to control your anxiety. Another benefit of exercise is that it releases endorphins. Endorphins help you feel good and improve your mood. 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 - The most common coping exercises for dealing with anxiety are 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 help 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 can be beneficial for the digestive system, and the hot water helps to relax the muscles of the stomach. Some herbal supplements 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 before taking these supplements.
- Eating - Eating foods that are gentle on the stomach - not too spicy, greasy, or salty - will also help. 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.
- 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.
When To See A Doctor
- Vomiting - 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 to your esophagus if it's not treated.
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 that will use medically reviewed data to help you 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.
We Can Help
Research shows that talking with a licensed therapist can be very helpful in soothing and treating anxiety, including the anxiety that produces an upset stomach. BetterHelp is an online platform that has trained therapists who use proven methods and medically reviewed research to help ease your anxiety and 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 therapists available, so you can be sure you find the right fit. See below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists, 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.
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