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What is the Connection Between Nausea and Stress?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 17, 2024
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Nausea and stress share common roots and often are experienced together. Anxiety and stress commonly triggers bouts of nausea, ranging in severity from the familiar butterflies in the stomach to serious debilitating distress and imminent vomiting. Stress affects many of the body’s organs, and the stomach is no exception.

Nausea, a sensation of discomfort, is a symptom rather than a disease. It is a feeling that the stomach is unsettled and that the person might vomit. Although many conditions and diseases might trigger waves of nausea, anxiety is one of the most common causes, and most people have experienced this reaction at some time.

In moments of stress, the body responds by releasing hormones, such as adrenaline, that trigger the fight-or-flight response. Alertness is heightened, respiration and heart rate increase, and muscles are primed for a physical response. These hormones flow through the whole body, and when they reach the digestive tract, the stomach responds by increasing acid production, causing feelings of nausea.

All sources of anxiety will trigger this fight-or-flight response. Whether facing an attack by a predator, fending off the school bully, speaking before a large audience or arguing with a family member, the same hormones are released. The inability to follow the fight-or-flight impulses, to confront or escape, often is experienced as stress. In the modern world, violent physical responses often are inappropriate, and the need for calm, rational reactions, or in some cases, to avoid reacting at all, can lead to heightened stress. This common hormonal cause links nausea and stress.

When dealing with immediate dangers and brief confrontations, fight-or-flight is an effective survival mechanism. In cases of prolonged worry or emotional distress, however, the constant release of hormones begins to take its toll.

Chronic stress and nausea are often accompanied by other symptoms as well. Gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome are common. Severe nausea might cause vomiting. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, sufferers might need to consult with a medical professional.

Managing anxiety can help to bring nausea and stress under control. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques are often effective for quickly reducing levels of anxiety, and exercise can burn off some of that adrenaline. Of course, long-term relief will require that the source of anxiety is addressed.

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Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Jan 09, 2014

I don't know how true this is but I've heard that there is a major nerve that runs through the stomach. So when we are stressed and upset, naturally, our stomach is affected as well.

By stoneMason — On Jan 08, 2014

@ysmina-- Nausea due to stress is very common. It happens to me too. I used to have a very stressful job and I had nausea and headaches almost daily. I still get nauseated when I have to travel or do something stressful. I don't even realize how stressed I am until I start feeling sick. It's like an automatic reaction.

I wish I lived during a different time, under different life circumstances where I could react more freely to stress. Just imagine if we could start running away when our boss comes to speak to us in the office! There wouldn't be as much stress.

By ysmina — On Jan 08, 2014

My best friend always becomes nauseated when she's stressed. She got married recently and I was her maid of honor. She was so stressed before and during the wedding that she was constantly nauseated. She actually vomited on her wedding day. She's completely fine now though. It's crazy how our emotions can cause us to become physically sick.

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