Most of us know by now the somersaults our stomachs can turn, and the cold sweat that may bead our forehead when we start to get anxious. But when that uncomfortable tension builds, anxiety nausea—nausea caused by our physical reaction to feeling anxious—may develop.
Even though anxiety arises in our minds, its physical symptoms are very real. While our bodies may believe we’re in danger, our minds can be taught how to cope. Follow along as we explain what the bodily effects of anxiety nausea are, what immediate steps you can take to get your nausea to subside, and what treatment options mental health professionals can offer that provide long-term relief.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like Physically?
Just like anger or depression, anxiety can create physical, bodily responses to what our mind is going through. There is a wide range of physical symptoms, which can vary from person to person.
These physical symptoms might include:
- Insomnia (or other sleep problems)
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle pain
- Bowel problems
Many other symptoms may be reported, as well. But one of the most unpleasant effects of lingering anxiety is nausea.
Can You Become Nauseous from Anxiety?
Yes, you can become nauseous from anxiety. That’s because anxiety alerts your body and mind to prepare for real or perceived dangers. This triggers your fight, flight, or freeze response.
When the threat is actually real, this anxiety can save your life or, at the very least, help you to prepare to fight back against any danger (whether it’s threatening your actual life, your mental state, financial standing, etc.). But regardless of whether that danger is real or imagined, anxiety does come with some unpleasant symptoms—one of which can be nausea.
When you’re anxious, your body releases hormones like adrenaline that cause your heart to beat faster, your breathing to increase, and your muscles to tense up, all in response to the threat. In addition, anxiety can affect your digestive system, primarily slowing down the rate at which your body processes food.
This can lead to nausea or vomiting, as well as stomach aches, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation. If you have IBS or other digestive issues, you may be more likely to experience anxiety nausea, as well.
What Does Anxiety Nausea Feel Like?
When you normally feel nauseous, you may feel like you need to throw up, even if you can’t. Your stomach might also feel tight or uncomfortable. Anxiety nausea is no different; however, it’ll likely be accompanied by additional physical symptoms of anxiety, such as those listed above (headaches, fatigue, sweating, and others).
In addition, you will likely experience other mental and emotional symptoms of anxiety. These symptoms can include feeling:
- On edge
Once your anxious thoughts begin to subside, the physical symptoms accompanied by anxiety nausea will decrease in severity until they eventually pass.
Does This Nausea Typically Happen in the Morning or at Other Times of Day?
Anxiety nausea can happen whenever you’re feeling anxious, especially if you already have digestion issues that are worsened by your feelings of anxiety. If something has caused you to feel anxious upon waking, you might experience anxiety nausea in the morning.
If something causes you to feel anxious later in the day, you might experience anxiety nausea in the evening. For the long-term anxiety that sticks around, you might feel nauseous before or after dinner—or even in bed while you’re trying to get some much-needed rest.
What Is Subconscious Anxiety Nausea?
Subconscious anxiety can be defined as a vague feeling of tension that you can’t quite place your finger on. It doesn’t have a distinguishable cause vs. anxiety that stems from a specific fear or worry.
This means that subconscious anxiety nausea is nausea that is experienced when you have subconscious anxious thoughts at the back of your mind. While we aren’t always aware of these lingering sources of stress, they can manifest themselves throughout the body.
Subconscious anxiety can be caused by trauma, chronic stress, mental health conditions, chronic physical conditions, or dramatic life transitions. As with many other conditions, anxiety doesn’t usually have a single source, but an interconnected web of contributing factors.
Can Anxiety Cause Dizziness?
Yes, anxiety can cause dizziness. As mentioned earlier, your body releases hormones that send specific messages throughout your body.
If you begin to breathe faster, especially if you start to panic, you’ll reduce the level of carbon dioxide in your blood, which can lead to dizziness or light-headedness. Conversely, feeling short of breath or experiencing chest tightness can also cause dizziness.
Even a lack of appetite can cause dizziness when the body’s blood sugar levels become too low. Anxiety, just like other conditions, truly highlights the close connection our mind and body share.
Is It Anxiety or Am I Sick?
If you’re experiencing the other symptoms of anxiety (such as the physical and/or psychological symptoms mentioned earlier), you can likely rule out a stomach bug or illness. If nausea is your only symptom—then you may have another condition that’s causing it.
A medical or mental health professional can help you get to the bottom of what you’re dealing with. And then from there, they can assist you with knowing how to best manage it.
How Can I Stop Nausea from Anxiety?
If you’re experiencing nausea from anxiety, try:
- Deep-breathing: Controlled, deep breathing has been shown to help with nausea, specifically. In addition, it can help nip your anxiety in the bud, too.
- Drinking water: Another dual-treatment. Drinking water can reduce the intensity of your nausea. In addition, drinking water regularly in order to stay well-hydrated can help to prevent anxiety altogether (and, therefore, nausea from anxiety).
- Resting: Rest can help to ease your nausea and get those anxiety/stress levels back down.
- Eating foods that can help reduce your anxiety and nausea, like saltine crackers, toast, bananas, or other mild options. Avoid caffeinated and carbonated beverages, citrus, and greasy foods that can upset your stomach.
Lastly, consider using thought replacement to de-escalate the situation. It’s easy for anxiety nausea to snowball when your thoughts start to become frantic—and feeling sick to your stomach doesn’t help, either.
It may seem difficult at first, but with help from the other three tips above, you may be able to recognize that your negative thoughts are making you feel worse. Start small: Realize that if you feel sick, you have the opportunity to get better, starting with addressing your physical symptoms.
Once your nausea subsides, you’ll be better equipped to unpack what’s stirring up your anxiety. In some cases, it can be more effective to work through the unpleasant effects of anxiety nausea with a provider’s guidance.
Is There Anxiety Nausea Medication?
If you regularly experience anxiety nausea, certain medications may be able to help. Working together with a treatment team, you and your provider(s) can determine which anxiety medication(s) might be a good fit for you.
Your psychiatric provider might prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), an antidepressant. This type of medication increases levels of serotonin in your body, to counteract the reduced levels caused by your anxiety, which can contribute to nausea.
Other potential medications might include:
- Anti-seizure medications
Talk with your doctor or psychiatric provider about the medication options that can assist you in overcoming the unwanted effects of anxiety nausea.
What Other Treatments Are Available for Anxiety Nausea?
There are also non-medication-based treatments for anxiety nausea that may be used together with psychiatric methods, or alone. By working with an experienced counselor, people suffering from anxiety nausea may find relief from the following therapeutic treatment options:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Interpersonal therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
While some providers specialize in a singular approach, many offer eclectic, blended treatment plans that adapt to the unique and specific needs of the client. With the right therapeutic approach, a skilled therapist can help someone with anxiety nausea to improve their coping skills and emotional control and awareness—helping to stop the cycle.
Anxiety and nausea are tough enough to cope with separately; facing them combined can be a true challenge. If you’re struggling to work through the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety nausea, it might feel like the world is spinning. But with the right tools and understanding, you’ll be able to better keep your emotions (and stomach) steady.