Is Nausea a Symptom of Anxiety?

Shot of a young woman experiencing stomach pain while lying on the sofa at home

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We tend to think of anxiety as a condition that provokes emotions like unease, worry, fear, stress, and panic. However, it’s important to understand that anxiety disorders are in fact health conditions that can cause physical symptoms as well.

Some of the physical symptoms of anxiety include sweating, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, tense muscles, nausea, and other digestive issues, says Alexandra Fuss, PhD, a gastrointestinal psychologist at Yale School of Medicine.

Everyone experiences these symptoms differently. For instance, you may have butterflies in your stomach before a big test or meeting. Or, you may feel slightly queasy at the prospect of taking a flight or riding in a crowded elevator. 

In severe cases, your stomach may churn, you may get stomach cramps, or you may end up gagging, dry heaving, or throwing up when faced with anxiety-provoking situations, such as public speaking

While it’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, anxiety that is persistent and overwhelming can make it difficult for you to go about your daily life. Symptoms like nausea can make anxiety harder to cope with.

This article explores the physical effects of anxiety, the connection between nausea and anxiety, and some treatment options and coping strategies.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

Fuss explains how anxiety triggers a flight, fight, or freeze response in your body and the connection between anxiety and nausea.

Flight, Fight, or Freeze Response

Anxiety causes the body to activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze response to a threat.

When we are faced with a threat or stressor, our sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. When we are in this state, our body prioritizes its resources to give us the best chance of immediate survival.

We experience physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and increased blood pressure. Additionally, blood is diverted away from the digestive system to the large muscle groups, digestion is slowed, and immune system responses are altered.

Nausea and Anxiety

The brain and gut are interlinked and each can influence the other. Our bowel walls have neurons (nerve cells) that comprise our enteric nervous system, also known as the gastrointestinal nervous system. This system is linked to our central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. 

This connection is a bi-directional network, which means that each can affect the other. In one direction, the brain can provoke intestinal responses to thoughts and emotions. In the other direction, the gut can trigger a response within the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain. 

Alexandra Fuss, PhD

Essentially, anxious thoughts and emotions can impact digestive functioning and similarly, digestive functioning can impact our emotions and thinking.

— Alexandra Fuss, PhD

As a result, it is not uncommon for people to feel that familiar stomachache or nausea when they are anxious. In turn, that nausea can worsen the anxiety.

Tips to Relieve Nausea

If your anxiety is causing you to feel nauseous, here are some tips that can help relieve nausea:

  • Sip on an ice-cold drink, such as chilled water, fruit juice, or soda. Avoid caffeinated beverages.
  • Sniff a slice of lemon or suck on a mint.
  • Eat something bland, such as plain toast or saltine crackers. Avoid foods that are sweet, fried, or greasy while you’re feeling nauseous.
  • Lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Avoid sudden movements, as they can make you more likely to throw up.

Treatment Options and Coping Strategies

Fuss suggests some treatment options and coping strategies that can help you cope with anxiety and subsequent nausea you experience:

  • Therapy: It’s important to see a mental health professional to address your anxiety and develop coping skills. Cognitive behavior therapy and exposure therapy are some of the therapeutic approaches that can help.
  • Gut-directed hypnotherapy: This is a specialized form of treatment for managing nausea and other gastrointestinal issues. It involves immersing yourself in a deeply relaxed state of clinical hypnosis, where you still have awareness and control of your actions. Your healthcare provider will guide you through exercises that can help increase your control over physiological symptoms and responses.
  • Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing, are shown to help the body reduce anxiety and return to a state of rest. These exercises can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce stress hormones. In addition to practicing breath work daily, you can focus on your breath during periods of peak anxiety to bring a sense of calm.
  • Mindfulness techniques: Other means of stress reduction that can help with anxiety include various mindfulness practices such as meditation, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Self-care: It’s equally important to take care of your health and yourself. Making the time for self-care, like taking care of your body’s basic needs such as getting adequate sleep, good nutrition, and regular exercise, and practicing self-compassion are essential.

A Word From Verywell

Anxiety is a health condition that can cause severe physical and psychological symptoms. Nausea is one of the physical symptoms of anxiety that can be difficult to cope with and worsen your anxiety. 

In the short-term, you can take steps to relieve the nausea and feel better. Sipping on chilled drinks, eating toast or a saltine cracker, and resting comfortably can help. 

However, in the long-term, it’s important to take steps to treat the anxiety and the subsequent nausea you experience. Seek help from a mental healthcare professional, for treatment options and coping strategies that can address your anxiety and prevent or manage nausea.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nationwide Children's Hospital. Ease Nausea with Natural Remedies.

  2. Gastrointestinal Society. Is hypnotherapy an effective treatment for IBS?

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