Anxiety and stress can cause both physical and mental symptoms.
As the body perceives threat or stress, it adapts its typical processes to deal with these stimuli. This can affect the function of certain bodily systems, causing physical feelings of anxiety.
This article explains how anxiety causes nausea, how it leads to other physical symptoms, and treatment options. It also discusses how to tell if your nausea is due to anxiety and answers some frequently asked questions.
Why does anxiety cause nausea?
When someone experiences exposure to a stressor, this can cause the fight-or-flight response.
The fight-or-flight response can be important for survival, as it triggers bodily changes that enhance self-protection. However, with anxiety, this response can occur more often or unnecessarily, which can cause symptoms of worry and stress.
After the brain perceives a threat, the nervous system triggers responses in the body, such as the release of hormones called adrenalin and noradrenalin. These hormones are responsible for bodily processes such as:
- an increase in heart rate and strength of the heartbeat
- the redistribution of blood flow
- an increase in breathing rate
- an increase in sweating
- muscle tension
- the widening of the pupils in the eyes
- a decrease in digestive activity
During the fight-or-flight response, the body may decrease the activity of the digestive system to divert energy to other systems.
It is this change in digestive activity that can cause feelings of nausea.
What does nausea from anxiety feel like?
Nausea can feel like the sense that you are going to or need to vomit.
There are different types of anxiety, anxiety disorders, and panic disorders. Each condition may present slightly differently in each person and may have different symptoms or triggers. As a result, each person’s symptoms of anxiety will be individual.
For example, some people may experience nausea or symptoms of anxiety that last for longer periods of time, while others may have symptoms that come and go or symptoms that are acute and that quickly resolve.
Alongside nausea, anxiety can cause additional digestive or gastrointestinal symptoms, such as stomachaches, a feeling of a heavy or sensitive stomach, or constipation.
Although anxiety can cause nausea, it is rare for anxiety to cause vomiting.
Other symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety can cause additional mental and physical symptoms.
General symptoms of anxiety can include:
Learn more about the physical symptoms of different types of anxiety here.
How to tell if nausea is from anxiety
Many psychological and physical health conditions can cause nausea. For some people, it may be difficult to know what the root cause of their nausea is and whether or not their symptoms are due to anxiety-related nausea.
This itself can trigger feelings of anxiety and stress, as a person may worry that they may have a serious underlying condition. Additionally, experiencing the feeling of nausea or illness may exacerbate a person’s anxiety.
Although the most advisable way to find the cause of your nausea is to contact your doctor for a diagnosis, you may also be able to gain a sense of whether or not your nausea is due to anxiety from the presence or absence of additional symptoms.
This is because some symptoms may be more likely to be the result of other conditions.
For example, if you experience nausea alongside other symptoms of anxiety or in response to exposure to a stressor or threat, this can suggest anxiety.
The following table demonstrates which additional symptoms may indicate a different cause of nausea than anxiety.
However, it is important to avoid self-diagnosing the cause of your symptoms. Although these symptoms may provide an additional indication, always seek a professional medical diagnosis for new or persistent symptoms.
When to seek medical help
Seek medical help from a doctor or mental health professional for symptoms of anxiety that are severe or impacting your quality of life.
You should also contact your doctor regarding any gastrointestinal symptoms or feelings of nausea. This can help rule out any other causes of your symptoms that may need medical attention and allow you to receive an accurate diagnosis so that you can receive the care that will help you.
Tips for managing anxiety and nausea
You may be able to improve your feelings of anxiety-related nausea with self-management approaches.
Self-care may not be able to completely resolve the underlying cause of your anxiety, but it may improve your quality of life and help you deal with the effects of anxiety.
Certain self-management techniques and lifestyle changes may help alleviate or ease your symptoms of anxiety and nausea.
These approaches include:
- seeking advice or support from trusted friends, family members, or support groups
- trying stress management techniques, such as:
- breathing exercises
- trying complementary or alternative therapies, such as:
Your doctor or a local hospital or clinic may be able to recommend local sources of support and licensed practitioners of complementary therapies.
The following tips may help you deal with mild nausea:
- taking regular sips of a cool drink or peppermint tea
- trying to eat foods containing ginger
- eating smaller meals more frequently
- avoiding eating foods that are strong-smelling, hot, or fried
- trying to eat slowly and not lying down after eating
- not wearing clothes that are tight around the waist or stomach
- trying to get fresh air
- distracting yourself with music or TV shows that you enjoy
Learn more about remedies and treatments for nausea here.
If your symptoms of anxiety and nausea are still having an impact on your quality of life, a doctor can recommend clinical treatments that can help improve your condition.
Different types of therapy can help you both improve your response to stressors and alleviate your symptoms. Therapy for anxiety may include:
Medications may also help you manage your symptoms and address your anxiety. Medications for anxiety may include:
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
- anticonvulsants, such as pregabalin
Frequently asked questions
Below are some frequently asked questions about anxiety and nausea.
Why does anxiety make me throw up?
Nausea can occur from anxiety due to the body’s response to a perceived threat. When the mind or body perceives a threat, it causes the fight-or-flight response to trigger certain bodily changes.
One of these changes is a decrease in the activity of the digestive system, which can cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea. You may also experience vomiting if the nausea is severe or if you have other underlying conditions.
Can anxiety make you feel sick all the time?
Anxiety can cause feelings of sickness and nausea. Everyone experiences slightly different symptoms of anxiety, and some people can experience more prolonged or recurrent episodes of stress or anxiety.
However, continuous, repeated, or debilitating feelings of sickness may indicate another condition. Contact your doctor for repeated symptoms of nausea, symptoms of nausea that do not improve, or symptoms of nausea that affect your quality of life.
Can anxiety cause nausea after eating?
Anxiety can cause nausea anytime you perceive stress or a threat. This may include causing feelings of nausea before, during, and after eating.
However, if you experience nausea after eating, you may also be experiencing a different underlying condition. Contact your doctor for any persistent episodes of nausea or other symptoms of indigestion.
How do I stop feeling nauseous from anxiety?
You may be able to reduce your feelings of nausea from anxiety with management techniques such as breathing exercises or mindfulness.
If self-management techniques are not effective, therapy and certain medications can also help improve your anxiety and the resulting symptoms.
Anxiety can cause nausea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. This is because anxiety can trigger the fight-or-flight response, which may decrease digestive activity as one of several bodily reactions to stress.
Anxiety-related nausea and other symptoms of stress can feel different to everyone.
Treatment options can include medications and therapy. Certain self-management approaches, such as breathing techniques and meditation, may also help improve symptoms.
Contact your doctor for any new or persistent symptoms of nausea. This can help you receive a diagnosis, rule out any other conditions, and gain the treatment that will be most effective for you.