Anxiety feels different for everyone. Lots of folks experience psychological effects like nervousness and stress, but other symptoms can also come into play. From sweaty palms to a racing heart, you’re probably familiar with some of these physical symptoms of anxiety. Even anxiety and nausea can be related.
Not everyone who experiences anxiety experiences nausea, but anxiety-related nausea is pretty common. And it’s not just in your head. Research shows that anxiety disorders can be a common cause of nausea.
Why does this happen? It’s comes down to how your body’s flight or fight response works. When you experience anxiety, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters to help protect you against the threat (even if it’s just a perceived threat). There’s a connection between your gut and your brain, and neurotransmitters produced in your gut can affect brain function. Some neurotransmitters can disturb the delicate balance of bacteria and can cause a whole host of symptoms, including nausea.
Anxiety is linked to irritable bowel syndrome
Anxiety has also been linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One study of 124 IBS patients found that about 38 percent of those patients also experienced anxiety. A larger study including over 1,000 college students also found a significant link between feelings of anxiety and IBS.
IBS symptoms can include nausea, as well as:
- abdominal pain
- excess gas
Nausea could be a symptom of anti-anxiety medication
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. Why? It might be because an increase in serotonin in your blood can stimulate the part of your brain that controls nausea.
Experiencing mild nausea with anxiety once in a while might not be a big deal. But if you experience intense nausea and anxiety on a regular basis, it can have a significant and negative impact on your life. Here are a few tips to keep these feelings at bay.
- Get enough sleep. Research shows that getting a healthy amount of deep sleep can act as a natural anxiety reliever. Be sure to log 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.
When anxiety nausea starts affecting your daily lifestyle, it’s time to start thinking more seriously about treatment options. Treating anxiety nausea goes hand in hand with treating anxiety.
Sometimes at-home remedies can work to relieve anxiety nausea. In other cases, professional treatment might be necessary. Here’s what to consider.
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 doctor or psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help with anxiety and related symptoms. This can include anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants.
Along with professional help, you can try some of these tips to relieve anxiety and related nausea at home.
- Distract yourself. Focusing on your nausea will likely only make it feel worse. Try to find something else to occupy your mind (like playing a game or watching some TV).
- Try musical therapy. Research suggests that musical therapy may help relieve anxiety-related nausea. Musical therapy can include singing to music, creating music, playing an instrument, or even just listening to music you enjoy.
- Eat something plain. If you’re feeling nauseated from anxiety, stick to a plain, simple diet, like the BRAT diet. This consists of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Skip anything spicy, greasy, or fried to avoid bothering your stomach more.
- Slowly sip water to stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is linked to a decreased risk of anxiety. Taking small sips of water when nauseated may even make you feel better in the moment.
- Practice deep breathing, mindfulness practices, or meditation. Breathing exercises may help prevent or calm down feelings of nausea.
- Drink ginger tea. Ginger may help prevent or relieve feelings of nausea without worsening your anxiety. Keep ginger tea on hand for a quick fix.
Yes, anxiety nausea is a thing. But sometimes that icky nauseous feeling actually isn’t related to anxiety. To tell the difference, really focus on how you feel and ask yourself a few questions.
- Is there something you’re anxious about? Did you feel anxious about something before the nausea hit? If so, it’s probably related. If not, it may not be.
- Did you eat something that may have upset your stomach? Think about how you felt after your last meal or snack.
- Do you often feel nausea related to your anxiety? If so, you could be experiencing a lot of anxiety without really realizing it, and the nausea is your body’s way of telling you.
If you’re unsure whether your nausea is related to anxiety, try calming down by doing some deep breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. If this soothes your nausea, your symptom was likely related to anxiety.
If the nausea doesn’t go away, gets worse, or you feel other physical symptoms of illness (like fever, fatigue, or body aches), it may be a symptom of something else.
Anxiety is your body’s response to fear or danger, whether it’s a perceived or real threat. That response causes physical reactions that can lead to some nasty symptoms, including nausea. If you’re experiencing anxiety along with nausea that’s impacting your life, reach out to your doctor or a psychologist for help.