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What does anxiety stomach pain feel like?

What does anxiety stomach pain feel like?

Stomach pain and digestive issues are a common physical symptom of anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Reviewed by:
Michael Roman, MD
|
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May 5, 2024
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Key takeaways

It’s no secret that anxiety makes us uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. So, if you’ve ever experienced a case of sweating, stomach pain, headaches, or chest tightness while anxious, you’re not alone.  

Our brains and digestive tracts are linked (the brain-gut connection) so it makes sense that that an upset stomach could be one of the symptoms of anxiety. In this article, we’ll cover how to tell if anxiety is what’s causing your stomach problems as well as when to see a mental health professional.


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Do anxiety and stress cause stomach problems?

The short answer is yes; anxiety causes stomach pain and other gastrointestinal issues. Your body’s fight or flight response triggers several hormones to get released in your body, including cortisol—the body’s stress hormone. Excess cortisol causes stomach cramping and may upset your gut’s balance of good and bad bacteria. When your stomach muscles and bacteria are imbalanced, you experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms with with digestive system, like stomach pain and diarrhea.

It’s also common for those who struggle with anxiety to overconsume unhealthy foods while stressed. This may lead to inflammation and changes in the gut microbiome, further fueling potential stomach pain.

Related article: Does anxiety cause chest pain?

How do I know if my stomach issues are from anxiety?

If you have an anxiety disorder, you’re likely familiar with the sense of uneasiness that takes over your insides—including your digestive system. These cramps and temporary pains are physical reactions to what’s going on in your brain. However, many different things cause stomach pain, not just anxiety. So, how do you know the cause? If your stomach problems arises when you feel particularly anxious and it doesn’t last more than a few hours, it may be anxiety-related.  

Contact your doctor if your abdominal pain is intense, comes with bloody stool, vomiting, or lasts longer than a couple of hours. here are many different issues that can arise with your digestive system, including Crohn’s Disease and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). A healthcare professional will be able to help you determine the cause of your stomach pain and the right treatments for you.

Related article: Anxiety and loss of appetite: What to know

Symptoms of anxiety-related stomach pain

Let’s talk about what anxiety-induced stomach pain actually feels like. The truth is, it varies. When some people have a nervous stomach, it causes intense gastrointestinal issues that have them running for the bathroom; for others, it causes light cramps. Regardless of your symptoms, stomach discomfort usually doesn’t last long.  

Here are some of the most common symptoms you may experience:

  • Acid reflux
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea

How do I stop stomach pain from anxiety?

There are several anxiety management techniques you can use to help alleviate stress-induced digestive problems. Here are a few things to try.

Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that helps direct your attention to the present moment and your environment rather than your anxious thoughts and discomfort.  You can try apps like Calm and Headspace that include deep breathing and other mindfulness exercises.  

The next time you experience stomach symptoms caused by stress in, try this:

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  • Focus on one body part at a time. Start by focusing on your feet and moving up your body until you reach the top of your head.
  • Then, focus on your breath. Slowly breathe in and out.  
  • If your thoughts wander, bring them back to your breath.

Over time, your brain learns to focus on the present rather than racing, anxious thoughts. Plus, the more you practice, the longer you can meditate!

Healthy habits and lifestyle changes

Introducing healthy habits into your routine is a great way to manage your long-term mental and physical health. Consider adding exercise and some physical activity to your daily routine. Something as simple as a short walk outside helps you connect with nature and calms your nervous system. Eating healthy foods and getting enough quality sleep are also important for reducing stress levels.

You can also ask your doctor for specific habits regarding your digestive health and gut health.

Deep breathing  

Taking deep breaths activates your parasympathetic nervous system—which controls your body’s ability to calm down. Here are two ways to practice deep breathing the next time you feel stomach pain.

Pursed lip breathing

  • Inhale through your nose for two seconds.
  • Purse your lips like you’re going to drink through a straw.
  • Exhale through your mouth for at least four seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel more relaxed.

Box breathing

  • Inhale through your nose for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath for four seconds.
  • Exhale through your mouth for four seconds.
  • Hold your breath again for four seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel more relaxed.

Relaxation techniques

Consider what makes you feel most relaxed and look for ways to do those things more frequently. Doing so will help keep your everyday anxiety levels lower.  

Common relaxation methods include yoga, reading, massages, positive thinking, affirmations, talking to loved ones, and going for walks. Next time you feel stomach pain, choose your favorite relaxation technique and spend time doing it.

If you’re looking for more ways to help root you when you’re in a stressful situation, check out more techniques and grounding strategies for anxiety.  

Natural supplements and home remedies

The good news is that you may have items around your house that help alleviate nausea and stomach pain. Electrolytes and ginger help prevent dehydration and soothe your stomach, respectively. Try drinking an electrolyte drink, ginger ale, or ginger tea.  

Peppermint also helps relieve stomach issues, so you can take a capsule of peppermint oil or drink peppermint tea the next time your stomach hurts. Remember to read the labels on each item to ensure you’re drinking or taking the appropriate amount, and always ask your doctor before starting any home remedies, as they may hot have been studied in official research settings.

How else can I treat my stomach pain anxiety?

If you stress is acting you’re daily life and you’re experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety, like stomach pain, you may find it helpful to treat the underlying anxiety you feel. In addition to learning healthy coping mechanisms through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), you may also benefit from medication, too. This is especially true if you have an anxiety disorder.

At Talkiatry, we’re here to help. We’re a a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care—and you can schedule a first visit within days. Get started with a short online assessment.

Remember, if you experience worsening or intense stomach pain, speak with your primary care doctor or another medical professional right away.

The information in this article is for education and informational 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.

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About
Michael Roman, MD

Dr. Michael Roman is currently a Staff Psychiatrist at Talkiatry. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Roman is a board-certified Adult Psychiatrist and a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN).

Dr. Roman’s clinical practice centers primarily around medication management and psychopharmacological treatment approaches. He also specializes in a variety of psychotherapeutic modalities which he utilizes in conjunction with medication management in order to provide patients with the best possible treatment outcomes.

Dr. Roman’s curiosity for the studies of the human mind began with pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was intrigued by the way our mind, body, emotions, and behavior were intertwined to comprise our everyday life experiences. His interest in the intricacy of the human mind was deepened in medical school, and he received his medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He completed his adult psychiatry residency training at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Roman treats a wide spectrum of patients, but his primary clinical focus is treating mood disorders, ADHD, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. Dr. Roman also specializes in treating substance use disorders and possesses clinical expertise in implementing high quality motivational interviewing and motivational enhancing therapy.

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