Nausea is an extremely common physical symptom of anxiety, and it’s one you’ve almost certainly experienced yourself.
Although nausea isn’t as unpleasant as some of the other physical symptoms your anxiety may cause, it can still negatively impact your quality of life.
If you feel sick all the time you’ll avoid doing things, you’ll avoid foods you like, and you’ll probably worry that something serious is making you feel unwell.
That’s the way nausea affected me, and I’m guessing that’s how it’s affecting you too.
As with all physical symptoms of anxiety, the best way to deal with nausea is to learn more about it.
If you find out why it happens, how it feels, and what you can do to stop it, nausea will become much less of a problem in your life.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Nausea?
When you’re in danger your fight or flight response is triggered. Adrenaline gets released into your system, causing several physical changes inside you that help you fight the danger or run away from it.
One of the physical changes that happens is that blood is pumped away from your stomach and into your head, arms, and legs.
In a life or death situation your stomach isn’t a priority. But your head, arms, and legs are – they’re what help you think, fight, and run your way to safety.
This whole process is normal and is there to save your life in an emergency. But when you have constant anxiety this normal process gets screwed up.
Your constant anxiety is misinterpreted by your subconscious as a sign of danger. It assumes that something deadly must be happening for you to feel such intense anxiety.
So your fight or flight response gets triggered.
It’s not needed, there’s no danger to fight or run from, but that doesn’t matter. Adrenaline gets released into your system, and all those same physical changes happen inside you.
Including the blood in your stomach getting pumped to other parts of your body. And with no blood in your stomach, it essentially shuts down.
Here’s what happens inside your stomach when it shuts down:
- it stops getting blood
- it stops getting oxygen
- it stops digesting food
- its digestive muscles contract abnormally
- its enzyme and acid levels fluctuate erratically
With all this going on in your stomach it’s no surprise that you’ll experience nausea, sometimes severely.
How Does Nausea Caused by Anxiety Feel?
You’ve probably had nausea many other times in your life from causes other than anxiety. Stomach bugs, food poisoning, eating a lot of junk food over the holidays, and so on.
Anxiety-induced nausea can feel similar to those.
But it can also feel different, and that can make it scarier than standard nausea. To help you to identify your nausea as a symptom of your anxiety it might help if you learn how anxiety-induced nausea can feel.
If your anxiety causes nausea, you may:
- feel like your stomach is cramping
- feel like your stomach is churning
- feel like your stomach is bloated
- feel like you’re about to throw up
- feel like your stomach is full of trapped wind
- feel like you have butterflies in your stomach
- feel like you desperately need to use the bathroom
- feel like moving makes the sickness worse
On top of these feelings, anxiety-induced nausea also has a few other characteristics that make it different from standard nausea:
- it can appear quickly without warning
- it can disappear quickly like nothing was ever wrong
- it can get worse the more you focus on it
- it can occur at the same time as dizziness
- it often doesn’t get better with standard nausea medicines
If a lot of these symptoms and feelings sound familiar, you can be pretty sure that what you’ve been experiencing is anxiety-induced nausea.
Now that you’re aware of how this type of nausea can feel, take note of your symptoms whenever you feel nausea in the future.
If you can’t explain your nausea with some other logical explanation, you almost certainly have nausea caused by your anxiety.
As unpleasant as this kind of nausea can be, hopefully you’ll find some reassurance in the knowledge that it’s your anxiety causing your nausea, and not something more worrying.
How to Stop Nausea Caused by Anxiety
Your nausea is being caused by the fight or flight response your body has to the constant anxiety you feel.
So stopping the nausea from happening in the first place is a longer task, and one that will only be achieved when you’ve overcome your anxiety completely.
But there’s still lots you can do in the short-term to ease the nausea you might be experiencing.
Everyone is different, and nausea is a very non-specific symptom, so try all of the following suggestions to see what works best for you.
Here are several things you can try when your anxiety causes nausea:
- no drinks with food – any kind of drink consumed along with food can make it harder for your stomach to digest what you’ve eaten, and that can make nausea worse. Try to avoid drinks for 30 minutes before and after eating
- no lying after eating – if you lie down with food in your stomach it will move around, potentially causing both nausea and reflux. Try not to lie flat for 2 to 3 hours after eating
- no large meals – eating large amounts of food in one sitting will bloat your stomach and interfere with digestion. Eat frequent small meals instead
- no foods high in fat or sugar – rich foods can make you feel nauseous at the best of times. Try to avoid anything rich when you’re feeling anxious or nauseous
- avoid an empty stomach – a totally empty stomach is just as likely to cause nausea as an over full stomach. Try to nibble on very light snacks throughout the day
- sip Coke or Pepsi – Coke and Pepsi can offer very fast relief from feelings of nausea. Try sipping one of these drinks when you feel sick (sugar is a bad idea when you’re anxious, so stick with the sugar-free varieties of these drinks)
- don’t dwell on your nausea – nausea is one of those symptoms that gets worse the more you focus on in. Try to rationally say to yourself that it’s your anxiety that’s causing the nausea, and then let it go
If you can stick to some or all of these guidelines the next time your nausea strikes, you should find that the nausea is less severe than normal and that it passes more quickly.
And experiment on your own.
When your anxiety makes you feel sick, try something new and see if it helps. Keep what works, discard what doesn’t. Build up an arsenal of weapons you can use to fight off nausea in the future.
Feeling sick is miserable, and sadly it’s a big part of living with anxiety.
Not only does anxiety-induced nausea make you feel sick, but it also makes your anxiety worse because you worry what’s causing the sick feeling in the first place.
And suddenly you’re in another anxiety-based vicious circle: your anxiety causes nausea, your nausea causes more anxiety, and so it continues until you break the cycle.
Hopefully this post will go some way to helping you break the cycle, and it will help you in two ways.
First, you should find relief through reassurance. You now know that your nausea is nothing more than another of those annoying side-effects of your constant worrying and anxiety.
Second, you should now be able to get relief from your nausea-based symptoms. The tips I’ve shared with you in this post are a great way to combat feelings of sickness when your nausea strikes.
This combination of reassurance and symptom relief should go a long way to stopping your problems with nausea for good.