Nausea is one of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable and difficult to deal with.
For some people, nausea is their primary anxiety symptom, and nausea from anxiety can cause significant disruption in your everyday life. But what causes an anxious stomach, and what can you do to put this symptom in the past?
Does Anxiety Lead to Nausea?
Nausea from anxiety is exceptionally common. While most people think first and foremost about the mental symptoms of anxiety — such as excessive worry, fear, or thoughts racing out of control — the physical symptoms of anxiety can be just as disruptive and are often what people identify as their primary problem.
Nausea from anxiety happens because anxiety is connected to the sympathetic nervous system. It is responsible for the fight-or-flight response and is commonly associated with preparing the body for dangerous situations.
But when people live with an anxiety disorder, the sympathetic nervous system can become activated even when there is no real danger or threat to be prepared for.
Part of the process of sympathetic nervous system activation is diverting blood away from the digestive tract and toward the lungs and heart, which can lead to the feeling of an anxious stomach.
The nausea from anxiety can be incredibly disruptive. You may feel so nauseated that you can’t leave the bathroom, fearing that you’ll throw up the moment you do. Of course, there are milder forms of an anxious stomach, such as a distracting sense of butterflies or tingling in your stomach.
Understanding the Gut-Brain Connection
Another component to consider in terms of nausea caused by anxiety is the gut-brain connection. Recent research has shown that your gut and brain are deeply interconnected, and changes in your gut flora can substantially impact your mental health.
For instance, the gut produces 95% of the body’s total serotonin, a neurotransmitter repeatedly linked to mood stabilization. While the role of serotonin in the gut isn’t exactly the same as serotonin in the brain, studies have shown a connection between total serotonin in the blood and the serotonin transmission in the brain.
Another key component of the gut-brain connection is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve plays a key role in activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which serves to calm you down and can be thought of as the inverse of the sympathetic nervous system.
The vagus nerve directly connects the brain and the gut. When you feel anxious, the vagus nerve sends signals to the gut, which may play a role in the experience of an anxious stomach or nausea from anxiety.
Stomach Problems From Anxiety
Another common experience for people with anxiety disorders is the development of stomach problems from anxiety. A number of gut-related medical conditions are seen at elevated rates among people with anxiety disorders, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Stomach ulcers
- Abdominal pain
- Imbalances in the gut microbiome
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
People living with anxiety disorders experience frequent activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, leads to disruption of the normal and healthy activity of the stomach and intestines.
Essentially, frequently experiencing anxiety can cause chronic stress on your digestive system, leading to uncomfortable medical complications.
What Can I Do About Nausea Caused by Anxiety?
There are a few options for relief from the nausea caused by anxiety. In general, there are three main methods to overcoming this uncomfortable symptom.
1. Treating Nausea With Medication
The first option is treating nausea directly, typically through medications designed to reduce the feeling of nausea. Several medication options can provide relief within minutes, vastly improving your quality of life almost immediately. These options can typically be provided by meeting with your primary care physician.
The problem with this approach is that it treats the symptom rather than the cause, and it’s not always a sustainable solution to overcoming the experience of nausea from anxiety. Anti-nausea medications don’t work forever, may cost a great deal of money, and you may not always have them on hand.
2. Exercise and Lifestyle Changes
Exercise is an excellent method of training your body to become more accustomed to the sudden changes caused by the experience of anxiety. Exercise trains your lungs, body, and mind to become more accustomed to stress, which, in turn, can reduce the severity of physical anxiety symptoms in the moment.
Lifestyle changes may help as well, such as setting aside time for self-care, starting a meditation practice, or reducing the number of stressful or anxiety-provoking situations you deal with on a regular basis.
If there is one drawback to these changes, it’s that you likely won’t see the full benefits for months. It takes a long period of concerted effort and changes to feel a significant change in your physical anxiety symptoms, and many people will revert to their old lifestyle before the benefits fully set in.
3. Treating Anxiety Directly
The third option is treating anxiety directly. There are a number of different therapies and treatments for anxiety, which can provide both immediate relief and long-lasting recovery.
Unlike other methods, taking this approach will help to resolve the overarching problem of anxiety as well, rather than helping you with physical symptoms alone.
Traditional Anxiety Treatment Methods
The treatment of anxiety has been studied for decades, and these studies have yielded several evidence-based approaches that can help you not only improve your physical symptoms of anxiety but also allow you to work toward holistic recovery from your mental health challenges.
Traditional anxiety treatments focus on two main pathways — medication and therapy. While each can be used as a standalone treatment, the best outcomes typically happen when people combine medication and talk therapy.
Anti-anxiety medications can be highly effective for both providing in-the-moment relief as well as lasting reductions in anxiety symptoms.
Starting medication for an anxiety disorder typically involves meeting with a psychiatrist to begin medication management, where you and your psychiatrist work together to find the medication that works best for you, the appropriate dose, and manage any side effects you may experience.
Talk therapy is another front-line approach that can mitigate many of the symptoms of anxiety. Working one-on-one with a therapist can help you uncover the root cause of your anxiety and provide you with strategies and coping mechanisms to help you manage your symptoms in your day-to-day life.
Several evidence-based therapeutic modalities can treat anxiety disorders, and most people will see substantial improvements after meeting with a therapist for just a few sessions.
Novel Anxiety Treatment Methods at Plus by APN
While medication and talk therapy can be extremely beneficial, they don’t always work for everyone. Thankfully, there are several new and innovative treatment methods offered at Plus by APN that can be used as front-line anxiety treatment options or in conjunction with traditional treatment methods to produce even greater results.
Ketamine-assisted therapy (KAT) is a highly focused and intensive form of therapy that uses the dissociative psychedelic ketamine to enhance your therapy experience.
At therapeutic doses, ketamine can help people break down many of the personal barriers that often hinder therapy, helping them make personal breakthroughs and achieve rapid results.
KAT is performed in-clinic with a team of medical and mental health professionals who help guide you through your experience. A therapist will sit with you for the entire session, helping you work through your struggles with anxiety and manage any psychological side effects of the medicine.
KAT has quickly developed an evidence base, showing it as a remarkably effective treatment for anxiety disorders. KAT can succeed even when traditional treatment methods have failed, providing a new path to recovery for people who have been trying to resolve their anxiety symptoms for years.
Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation (Deep TMS) uses a specialized device to provide brief electrical stimulation to targeted regions of the brain associated with anxiety.
The process starts with a detailed brain mapping procedure, which identifies relevant targets for treatment. Then, a hat equipped with powerful electromagnets is placed upon your head, which delivers the short electrical bursts.
Stimulating underactive regions of the brain can serve to produce long-lasting neuronal connections that can drastically reduce your anxiety symptoms. While most people feel the effects of deep TMS right away, several sessions are typically indicated for the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Neurofeedback uses real-time brainwave data to help people understand and learn to control their brain activity. A non-invasive cap is placed upon the head to measure brain activity, and the results are shown on a screen in front of you.
What happens in neurofeedback is essentially brain regulation training. You can see in real-time how certain thoughts, behaviors, or coping strategies can influence brain activity associated with the feeling of anxiety and how to manage these states effectively.
Neurofeedback is often used in the treatment of anxiety disorders and can help teach you actionable skills that can be put to use every day in the real world.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is used to help accelerate the brain and body’s healing process. Oxygen is a critical building block for repairing muscle and brain tissue, and in HBOT, you are placed inside a controlled environment with high oxygen levels, increasing oxygen availability within your blood.
This can be particularly beneficial for people who are undergoing therapy, have been experiencing anxiety as a result of recent brain trauma, or are interested in accelerating the path to new neuronal growth.
Stellate Ganglion Blocks
Anxiety has frequently been linked to overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system. A stellate ganglion block is designed to help prevent the sympathetic nervous system from becoming overactive by delivering a local anesthetic to a bundle of nerves known as the stellate ganglion.
The stellate ganglion is one of the primary pathways for sympathetic nervous system activation. By anesthetizing this bundle of nerves, you can prevent the experience of many of the physical symptoms of anxiety, including nausea from anxiety.
Reduction of your physical symptoms can, in turn, prevent many of the mental symptoms of anxiety from escalating.
Start Treatment at Plus by APN
At Plus by APN, our team is dedicated to bringing the best and most efficacious treatment options to our clients. To get started with treatment, reach out today by calling 424.644.6486 or filling out our confidential online contact form.
- Appleton, Jeremy. “The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 17,4 (2018): 28-32.
- Breit, Sigrid et al. “Vagus Nerve as Modulator of the Brain-Gut Axis in Psychiatric and Inflammatory Disorders.” Frontiers in psychiatry vol. 9 44. 13 Mar. 2018, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044