Anxiety is part of the human experience. It’s something all people experience from time to time. But severe, ongoing anxiety can significantly impact your emotional, mental, and physical health.
In particular, anxiety can be associated with physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and anxiety headache.
If you have anxiety-related nausea, here are 5 effective strategies you can try right now to combat the symptoms of both.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY?
There are many causes of anxiety. Feelings of anxiety can be part of how we’re wired as humans, something we experience in the aftermath of trauma and loss or associated with medical conditions like hypertension.
Anxiety is part of the built-in stress response system. When activated, this system triggers a release of stress hormones that elevate heart rate, increase blood pressure, tense muscles, and cause you to sweat.
This physiological process takes place before your conscious mind even has a chance to evaluate the threat.
And if you have a panic disorder, your brain may have an overactive stress response, meaning that your brain might register something that’s not objectively dangerous as a serious threat.
THE BRAIN-GUT CONNECTION
Researchers have focused on the connection between the brain and the gut in recent years. So why does an emotional reaction trigger sensations in your stomach? Because the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system, activates the vagus nerve.
The longest in your autonomic nervous system, this nerve travels from your brain to your gut. On the way to your gut, this nerve communicates with your parasympathetic nervous system by way of your heart and lungs.
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for helping your body relax, as well as for digesting food. In simple terms, it’s the system that calms you down after you’ve experienced a physiological anxiety response.
PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
People are often surprised to learn that the experience of anxiety extends far beyond thought patterns that happen in the mind. There are a specific set of physical symptoms you’ll experience in your body after your brain triggers a chemical stress response.
When the body’s stress response system is activated, the brain releases a cascade of different hormones to help protect you from the perceived threat. These hormones cause immediate physical changes in your body.
ANXIETY AND STRESS CAUSING NAUSEA
Because the vagus nerve travels from your brain to your heart, lungs, and gut, anxiety can affect almost your whole body. Here are some of the possible symptoms of anxiety and stress in the digestive system.
- Acid reflux
- Stomach pain
- Gas and bloating
TREATING ANXIETY & NAUSEA
The stress response can upset the stomach and cause nausea for many people. In some cases, it’s so intense that people experience anxiety vomiting.
If you have nausea from anxiety, you can try a few things to relieve the symptoms.
1. Do some deep breathing.
Deep breathing is helpful for both anxiety and nausea. Often when you feel stressed or nauseous, you may start to take shallow breaths. Research shows that controlled, deep breathing can help nausea, especially if you start the exercise as soon as symptoms start.
One of the most straightforward breathing exercises is belly breathing, which stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
2. Try a mindfulness exercise.
Mindfulness has been used to help reduce anxiety and nausea. Studies show that meditation, and mindfulness, in particular, help reduce anxiety and stress.
Moreover, therapies based on mindfulness principles, like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), can help reduce anxiety levels across a wide range of disorders.
Meditation and mindfulness may also help with nausea. One study found that guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation significantly reduced nausea in chemotherapy patients.
3. Drink a glass of water.
Even though staying well-hydrated isn’t a treatment for anxiety, a glass of water may reduce intense symptoms. Staying hydrated may help prevent anxiety.
Drinking water or other clear liquids like sports drinks and herbal teas can also help with nausea. Just make sure to take small, slow sips to make sure you don’t overwhelm your system.
4. Eat something mild.
For some people, hunger can lead to both anxiety and nausea, and low blood sugar can trigger the body’s stress response. Plus, being hungry can cause nausea and other GI symptoms because it increases stomach acid levels and causes hunger-related contractions in your stomach.
Even if hunger isn’t the cause of your symptoms, eating a small amount of something mild like saltine crackers, plain rice, or a boiled potato can help settle the stomach.
If all else fails, it may be time to do what you’d typically do when feeling sick: get some rest. It might help to put on some comfortable, loose-fitting clothes that don’t press on your abdomen or stomach.
You can lay down flat on your back if that feels comfortable. But it’s best to prop yourself up in bed with pillows if you have GERD or other issues with stomach acid, such as reflux.
You can also take measures to prevent anxiety and nausea in the future. If you’re experiencing nausea and anxiety now, there are a few changes you can make that aim at preventing their recurrence going forward.
1. Take care of your mental health.
Regular exercise, a healthy diet, ample sleep, and meaningful connections with others are great ways to care for your mental health.
2. Avoid foods that are hard on your stomach.
While this suggestion may differ from person to person, it’s generally best to stay away from foods that are greasy, fried, spicy, and high in sugar.
3. Be mindful.
Regular meditation and mindfulness practices not only improve and stabilize your mental health. They can also help reduce the intensity of physical discomfort. Plus, meditation enables you to develop a greater capacity to tolerate distress when you encounter physical and psychological difficulties.
4. Stay hydrated.
Make sure you’re getting enough water, and try to limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Anxiety can have a marked impact on your gastrointestinal system.
- It’s not uncommon for anxiety to cause nausea and, in some cases, vomiting.
- If you have nausea related to anxiety, try deep breathing, mindfulness exercises, drinking clear fluids, eating mild foods, and getting some rest.