Why Your Anxiety May Be to Blame for Your Upset Stomach

You’ve probably experienced a nervous stomach — maybe because you have a big day at…

You’ve probably experienced a nervous stomach — maybe because you have a big day at work or are headed to an important event. We’ve all been there! That anxiousness you’re feeling affects how your stomach behaves because your whole body works together in ways you probably never thought about. Ahead, we’ll discuss the gut-brain connection and how you can take care of that anxious feeling in your stomach when it starts bothering you.

What is the brain-gut connection? 

Your brain and gut are connected in a way that you may not have realized — it’s the gut-brain axis. This means that when your brain is experiencing something like anxiety, it can travel to your stomach, intestines and gut and cause distress. Similarly, stomach pain can tell your brain about the unrest, which can cause stress or anxiety, according to Harvard Health.

Your vagus nerve is one of the central connections between your gut and your brain. This set of nerves controls digestion, among other things. When you have damage to your vagus nerve, you can experience digestive issues, like gastroparesis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This is a condition where you’re not digesting food properly.

Your nervous and digestive systems are inherently connected, which means that a problem with one can cause a problem with the other. When it comes to anxiety, that’s something that’s happening in your brain, which translates to issues with your stomach.

Common symptoms of a nervous stomach:

  • An upset stomach that results in vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Stomach cramps
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Painful gas
  • Butterflies in your stomach
  • Increased need for the bathroom

Tips to ease your anxious stomach

Having an anxious stomach is common, and you can do plenty of things to ease your symptoms. Try any of the following next time you have an upset stomach.

Be mindful of what you eat and drink

It only makes sense that what you eat and drink can affect your stomach. But beyond thinking about what foods usually give you a stomach ache, you should also think about what can affect your brain. For example, while often helpful if you’re tired, caffeine can make your mind race and possibly cause some anxiety. That anxiety can translate to an upset stomach. Certain foods can also help ease anxiety you might be experiencing, like dark chocolate or turmeric. Chamomile tea is also often a resource for easing stress.

Read more: Best (and Worst) Foods for Your Mental Health

Use herbal remedies 

As previously mentioned, chamomile can ease stress, but ginger is another popular natural remedy. There’s a reason so many people drink ginger ale on airplanes — it can help settle a nervous tummy! You can get your ginger from ginger ale, ginger tea, ginger candies or just straight-up ginger. This root is great for your digestive system because it keeps it working efficiently, according to Johns Hopkins. Peppermint essence and tea can also help settle an upset stomach. 

Ginger lemon tea

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Try deep breathing

Deep breathing can help you out in two different ways. Practicing deep breathing can both relieve an upset stomach and calm anxiety. According to the University of Michigan Health, breathing deeply can help an upset stomach because it activates the diaphragm and gives your organs a light massage to comfort them. As for your anxiety, deep breaths activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which triggers your nervous and digestive systems to find equilibrium, according to Dignity Health. If you’re experiencing a nervous stomach or anxiety, stop what you’re doing and take a few big deep breaths in and out. Repeat until you start to feel some relief.

Work toward improving your gut health

Starting at the source can certainly help solve your stomach issues. Improving gut health can reduce any stress your nervous stomach is causing you. One of the best ways to do this is to eat the right foods. Try to stick to a well-balanced diet — though treats are fine in moderation! — that’s full of fiber. According to Johns Hopkins Medical, a fiber-rich diet will keep your digestive system moving as needed. You also want to make sure your stomach is chock-full of good bacteria. You can get this from foods like yogurt and kefir. An exercise routine and good sleep hygiene can also help keep your gut in check.

Exercise regularly 

Plain and simple, exercise is good for you. It’s good for your mental health because it allows you to channel your stress and relax. Plus, working up a sweat burns calories and works out your muscles. But research has also found that exercise can positively affect your gut microbiome. Studies show that regular exercise improves the microflora in the stomach (aka all the bacteria) and can help the brain-gut connection by keeping your nervous and digestive systems running and intact.

When is my nervous stomach an issue? 

Having a nervous stomach from time to time is normal. You may feel a nervous stomach if you have a big meeting at work or you’re about to head into an unfamiliar situation with people you don’t know. This is normal! However, if you constantly have an upset stomach, seeing a doctor is best. There’s a good chance this isn’t a nervous stomach. It could still be traced back to anxiety. 

There’s also a chance that your upset stomach is due to something else completely, in which case, it’s time to talk to your doctor about what’s going on. Check with your doctor to rule out common concerns like irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease.