Anxiety is a stress response and it can cause a variety of psychological and physical symptoms. It can cause physical symptoms that can disrupt your ability to live a high-quality life. When you feel overly anxious, you might notice that your heart rate speeds up and your breathing rate increases and you might sometimes experience a bout of nausea. The evolutionary purpose of nausea is thought to be to notify a person of something and try to prevent the person from repeating whatever they just did. Although unexplained nausea is possible, nausea is generally your body’s way of telling you that it doesn’t like something that occurred or the results of that action.
At some high levels of anxiety, you might get just a bit queasy, the intensity of this queasiness is largely related to the causes and types of anxiety you’re experiencing. Not everyone will experience nausea, but those who do may have mild to severe nausea.
This kind of nausea may pass shortly. But sometimes, anxiety-related nausea can make you sick to your stomach. Your stomach churns so much that you have to make a run for the bathroom. You may even reach the point of dry heaving or vomiting.
How Does Anxiety Cause Nausea?
Anxiety-related nausea arises due to a variety of different issues. In most people with anxiety, stress causes nausea. In others, the anxiety itself can lead to the development of nausea separately from the stress response.
The following are ways anxiety can lead to nausea:
Anxiety can make someone “hypersensitive” to the way their body feels. This means they give more attention to the body. When you become hypersensitive, a small amount of “normal” nausea that you otherwise could ignore can feel like severe nausea that is difficult to control.
Anxiety is a known trigger of and contributor to issues like motion sickness, so some people with anxiety tend to have worse nausea during car rides and similar movement.
Anxiety may change the body’s levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin. Serotonin also plays a role in the reactions of the gut. Thus, changes in these neurotransmitters’ levels in the brain can trigger nausea signals in the gut.
Anxiety disorders that may cause nausea
A certain level of anxiety is a normal response to uncertainty and danger. However, some people experience anxiety so frequently that it interferes with their everyday life. People with this type of anxiety may have an anxiety disorder.
There are many different types of anxiety disorder, each of which may cause nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Some examples include:
Generalized anxiety disorder: Intense worry about everyday aspects of life, such as health, safety, or money, which lasts for 6 months or more.
Phobia: An irrational fear of a specific thing or situation, such as spiders or being in enclosed spaces.
Social anxiety: An overwhelming feeling of self-consciousness during social situations. The sense that people are watching or judging or talking about you can worsen the symptoms.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): An anxiety disorder that can develop after a traumatic experience. The person may experience vivid dreams, flashbacks, or tormented memories.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): A disorder that involves obsessive thoughts and compulsive acts. One of the most common examples of OCD is a fear of contamination, which often leads to repetitive hand washing.
Panic disorder: Frequent, unprovoked feelings of terror or impending doom.
How to Treat Nausea Due to Anxiety
In the case of nausea due to anxiety, nausea itself isn’t dangerous. As long as you have ruled out other health problems and your doctor or therapist has confirmed that anxiety is causing your nausea, it is helpful to know that your body is not in any danger. Instead, to control your nausea, you need to manage your anxiety.
Several strategies for fighting anxiety include the following:
- Jogging: jogging is a powerful tool for fighting anxiety. It tires your muscles, which reduces the amount of tension they put on your stomach. It also releases endorphins, “feel good” hormones that improve your mood. In addition, it regulates hormones and depletes adrenaline, which can help control anxiety.
- Deep Breathing: deep breathing is one of several stress-reduction techniques that are effective for controlling the stress response. Deep breathing involves taking slow, controlled breaths to get your heart and mind under control.
- Light and Healthy Eating: your nutrition doesn’t necessarily affect your anxiety nausea. But it can affect the severity of your nausea. Heavy, fattening, unhealthy meals tend to lead to more nausea than healthy meals.
- Drink Water: like healthy eating, water can help keep your body nourished as it has no ingredients that would exacerbate your upset stomach. In addition, it’s not uncommon for dehydration to lead to more anxiety, so drinking water can be a form of anxiety treatment. Just make sure you don’t drink too much water too fast or you may get some mild nausea.
- Over-The-Counter Medicines: Tums, peppermint, and Pepto-Bismol may also provide temporary relief from anxiety-related nausea. They can be used for nausea that occurs on rare occasions but should not be used by those who experience regular, persistent nausea due to anxiety.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a way to treat anxiety and related pain. During CBT, patients learn coping skills that help them manage their pain.
- Medication: A medical doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help with anxiety and related symptoms. This can include anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants and other medically reviewed solutions.
How to Prevent Anxiety Nausea
Experiencing mild nausea with anxiety once in a while might not be a big deal. But if you experience intense nausea and anxiety regularly, it can have a significant and negative impact on your life. The following are a few tips to prevent anxiety-induced nausea:
Get enough sleep: Research shows that getting a healthy amount of deep sleep can act as a natural anxiety reliever. Be sure to sleep for at least 8 hours a night if possible.
Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can be a common trigger for anxiety and can make anxiety symptoms, like nausea, even worse. If you regularly feel anxiety nausea, consider removing caffeine from your diet.
Exercise regularly: Physical exercise can help release built-up muscle tension that could otherwise lead to nausea when you’re feeling anxious. It can also help you relax — which may help prevent anxiety from happening in the first place.
Avoid Anti-Anxiety Pills that Cause Nausea: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a popular treatment for anxiety disorder. Some research suggests that nausea can be a common side effect of these pills. It might be because an increase in serotonin in your blood can stimulate the part of your brain that controls nausea.