While everyone will experience anxiety symptoms differently, many people will have nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or general stomach upset. But how can you know if your tummy troubles are caused by anxiety or something else?
Here we’ll talk about how anxiety can cause nausea, signs that your feelings of nausea might be caused by something other than anxiety, and some ways to soothe digestive issues caused by anxiety.
The short answer: Yes. Your brain and digestive system are connected and when your body goes into an anxious state (also called your fight-or-flight response), it triggers some changes in your body, including your digestive system. This can sometimes result in an upset stomach or feeling nauseous.
The long answer: Our digestive system and our brains are more connected than you might think. Ever get butterflies in your stomach before a big presentation? Or feel a pit in your stomach when you get bad news? Researchers are still trying to figure out how exactly the gut and brain communicate but they think the vagus nerve (which sends messages from the gut to your brain and vice versa) may play an important role. When you’re anxious, hormones and chemicals are released, some of which are in your digestive tract. Over time, these hormones and chemicals may negatively impact your gut and contribute to stomach discomfort.
While nausea related to anxiety is typically short-term, if your body is chronically stressed or anxious, you might feel more chronic digestive symptoms. If you’re experiencing a change in appetite or sudden weight loss as a result of anxiety or stomach troubles, this is a sign you need to seek professional help from a qualified health professional.
Some people describe the nausea caused by anxiety as a fluttery feeling, but for others, nausea from anxiety may feel a lot like nausea from any other cause. If you experience digestive upset caused by anxiety, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. But if you’re noticing more chronic or long-term changes in your digestion or if you’re getting frequent bouts of nausea that are making it hard to go about your day—it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. They will be able to help you identify and treat the underlying cause of your anxiety or stomach upset.
Of course, while nausea is a common symptom of anxiety, there may be other reasons for feeling queasy. So how can you tell where your nausea is coming from?
Anxiety-induced nausea is typically short-lived and resolves when the stressor goes away. (Say you have a presentation coming up or are stressed by a project at work or by something in your personal life.)
If you’re experiencing an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or phobias, your digestive upset may feel more chronic, but it should resolve when the anxiety is treated. It will also likely occur alongside other symptoms typical of anxiety disorder such as:
Learn more about the 5 types of anxiety disorders and their symptoms
It’s important to note that there is a connection between mental health conditions and digestive or gastrointestinal disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or Chron’s disease. Research tells us that people with digestive disorders are more likely to experience mental health conditions like depression or anxiety and vice versa.
So, if you are living with nausea or digestive troubles that are starting to take a toll on your day-to-day life, it’s time to see a qualified health professional. Your primary care doctor is typically a good place to start but if you suspect your mental health may be at the root of your stomach upset, a psychiatrist can help you rule out any underlying physical health conditions and recommend appropriate treatment.
Occasional stomach upset is normal and typically nothing to worry about but here are a few signs that it’s time to see a doctor:
Seek immediate medical attention if nausea is experienced along with:
Make an appointment with your doctor if:
Managing nausea caused by anxiety starts with managing the anxiety itself. Here are some psychiatrist-backed ways to cope with anxiety and ease anxiety-related nausea.
This breathing technique is a great one to keep in your anxiety toolbox. Practice it regularly when you’re in a relaxed state. That way, you’ll have it handy for those moments of heightened anxiety.
How to do it:
This deep breathing exercise is great for beginners. Try practicing it before bed or while you’re lying in bed to help promote relaxation and sleep.
How to do it:
Grab a pencil and a piece of paper because journaling regularly may help reduce anxiety, and there’s scientific evidence to back it up. There are lots of ways to go about your journaling practice. You can list out your anxious thoughts, reflect on the events of your day, or write out some positive affirmations. Set aside 5-10 minutes each day to start your practice.
Need more ideas on how to start your journaling practice? Check out: 3 benefits of journaling for mental health.
There are tons of reasons to exercise. Add to the list: supporting your mental health. Taking a movement break during the day, whether that’s to stretch, go for a walk, or groove to some music can help serve as a distraction from your anxious thoughts and potentially even give you a boost of helpful neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine (brain chemicals associated with a positive mood). But the benefits of exercise aren’t just short-term. Researchers have found that regular exercise is linked with positive changes in your brain.
You may have noticed that your mood suffers on days when you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. But sleep isn’t just linked to your mood and emotional well-being in the short-term. It’s also linked to your long-term mental health. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of developing a mental health condition like anxiety. Frustratingly, living with anxiety or depression can also make it hard to sleep. If this is you, do what you can to develop healthy sleep habits, including waking up and going to sleep at the same time every day, only using your bed for sleep and sex, and exposing yourself to natural light first thing in the morning.
For more tips on how to get a good night sleep, check out: How to calm down from an anxiety attack at night.
If you are experiencing anxiety most days, you may be living with an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition and it’s a good idea to seek out professional support. Anxiety is treatable and the sooner you connect with a health professional, the sooner you can get back to feeling like yourself. Treatment may include talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), anxiety medication (like antidepressants), or both. A mental health professional can help you explore different treatment options to help manage your feelings of anxiety.
If you’re ready to get help with anxiety and wellness, Talkiatry is a great place to start. We are a national psychiatry practice that offers virtual care covered by insurance. Just take our 10-minute, free online assessment to see if Talkaitry is right for you. You can get matched with a psychiatrist and have your first appointment in just days.
Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
Dr. Nidhi Sharoha is a double board certified psychiatrist in Psychiatry and Consultation Liaison Psychiatry. She completed her undergraduate training at Stony Brook University followed by medical school at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has completed both a Residency in Psychiatry and Fellowship in Consultation Liaison Psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center.
Dr. Sharoha has held academic appointment at Stony Brook University Hospital, practicing as a consultant psychiatrist as well as the Associate Director of Consultation Liaison Psychiatry Fellowship Program. She has been deeply involved in teaching throughout her years
She has a genuine interest in treating a vast array of psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, post traumatic stress disorders and obsessive compulsive and related disorders. She also has experience in treating patients with medical comorbidities and has training in issues related to women’s health.
Patients looking for a psychiatric provider will find that Dr. Sharoha has a gentle approach to diagnosis and management of her patients. She believes in the principle that body and mind are interconnected which allows her to provide comprehensive care to all of her patients.