Stress cause stomach pain


How to Stop Anxiety Stomach Pain & Cramps

Anxiety is a complex disorder, and one that can have a profound effect on one’s body, and not just the mind. The stress that anxiety puts on your body can lead to a host of different issues. One of the more common amongst them is stomach pain.

Stomach pain, stomach cramping, and intestinal discomfort that is hard to describe can all be the result of persistent anxiety.

Diagnosing Anxiety Stomach Pain

Stomach pain caused by anxiety is difficult for doctors to diagnose because the pain and indigestion is still a real physical response – the same type of response from your body that would occur if you had a physical or organic health issue.

If the stomach pain is severe or accompanied by fever or other symptoms, it’s certainly a good idea to visit a doctor. But anxiety can genuinely cause stomach pain in a way that can leads to indigestion and physical pain.

Examples of Anxiety-Related Stomach Issues

There are numerous issues caused by anxiety that could cause various types of discomfort in the abdomen. Some examples are:

  • Abdominal Tension Stress tends to cause a great deal of tension in the abdomen. That tension can tire out abdominal muscles and cause an internal feeling of discomfort.
  • Digestion Stress affects hormone levels, and hormones are used to aid digestion. When you’re stressed, it can lead to hormonal imbalance resulting in indigestion that may lead to bloating, intestinal pain, and more.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome Anxiety has been linked as one of the most likely causes of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. IBS occurs when your body’s digestive system is functioning poorly without a definite underlying cause; it can cause altered bowel movements and abdominal discomfort. .

Anxiety also releases stress hormone (cortisol), which causes the body to produce extra levels of stomach acid. That acidity causes the lining of the esophagus to become irritated, and this can lead to stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, and in severe cases, stress-induced ulcers. These are just a few of the ways that anxiety can cause some type of pain or negative stomach sensations.

Can Stress Cause Stomach Pain?

Anxiety and stress are closely related. But they are technically different conditions. It is possible to experience a significant amount of stress without experiencing anxiety. Yet the causes of stomach pain from stress are similar. Muscle tension, digestive issues – all of these are also caused by stress and may contribute to stomach pain.

How Do I Know if It’s Anxiety and Not an Ulcer?

It’s not uncommon to find yourself concerned that your struggle with stomach pain is not from anxiety or stress at all. For example, you may find yourself concerned that instead of anxiety, what you are really struggling with is an ulcer.

Only a doctor can diagnose whether or not your pain is from an ulcer, but there are some clues. The clearest signal is if you have any blood in your stool or acid burps (if you also have acid reflux). That’s often a clear sign of an ulcer. Also, if the pain or discomfort tends to occur after eating and isn’t related to a similar condition, GERD (heartburn/acid reflux), it’s possible you may have an ulcer.

Yet, even that tends to be a bit more complicated. First, there is some evidence that ulcers can be caused by long term stress and anxiety. The acids in the stomach break down the gastric or intestinal lining and cause open wounds that may harm your health.

Stomach Pain and Long Term Health

Because of the extra acids in your stomach and the changes to the way your body processes nutrients, the stomach pain from anxiety can actually be a problem if left untreated. Ulcers are just one example. Some people experience heartburn from anxiety, and others eat less often giving their body fewer nutrients.

The stomach pain from anxiety and stress is rarely dangerous, but it is still important and a good idea to treat it, because the effects on your long term health when left untreated may be harder to manage.

When is Stomach Pain Most Likely to Occur?

If you have anxiety, stomach pain can occur at any time – even when no anxiety is present. However, many people experience stomach pain during panic attacks.

The exact link between an anxiety attack and stomach pain is not clear, other than the fact that during a panic attack your body is under a considerable amount of stress and your hormones are often on overdrive. Also, those with anxiety attacks are prone to hyperventilation, which may lead to symptoms that create stomach pain.

Are There Foods That Reduce Stomach Pain?

Anxiety related stomach pain is not usually the result of your diet (although there are some diet and sedentary lifestyles may increase the risk of anxiety), so there aren’t necessarily any dietary changes that can help reduce stomach pain.

That said, those with panic attacks are more prone to experiencing more severe stomach discomfort, even when no anxiety is present. In other words, when you have panic attacks, it’s possible to have stomach pain even without a panic attack.

Also, those with anxiety attacks and severe anxiety are prone to what’s known as “over-sensitization.” That means that they are more likely to notice and feel smaller, normal changes in the body, and these can trigger an anxiety attack. So if your diet does contain foods that cause you gas, stomach discomfort, or mild indigestion, it may be best to avoid them because the slight amount of discomfort could feel worse than it should, and may trigger a panic attack.

That’s why healthy eating in those that get stomach pain with anxiety is important. Make sure you’re getting:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Water/Hydration
  • Whole-Grain Carbohydrates

Also, if there is stress-induced hyperacidity, then taking dairy products and non-spicy foods is recommended. In moderate amounts, over-the-counter antacids may be needed as well.

In addition, if possible, try to avoid eating until you’re too full. Those with severe anxiety sometimes interpret the “full” feeling as pain, and this could trigger a panic attack and further pain.

Wide Range of Symptoms

One of the more amazing issues with some types of anxiety disorder is the way that they change sensations in our body. For example, for many, feeling full is a nice feeling. However, it can lead to a variety of natural body sensations, including:

  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Slight stomach discomfort
  • Fatigue

In those without anxiety, these are natural. In people suffering some some degree of anxiety, those sensations feel much more pronounced and can trigger a full-blown panic attack.

How to Relieve Stomach Pain Symptoms

There isn’t necessarily a cure for the stomach pain symptoms themselves. When your body is under stress, your stomach tends to hurt as a result based on the acids in your stomach and the foods you’ve already eaten. If you have stomach pain as a result of anxiety attack, you may need to wait it out.

Water can help a little, however. So consider sipping cool (but not too cold) water. Antacids may also be beneficial in some cases, but if you have stomach pain often you may not want to depend on antacid treatments.

Stomach Upset, Discomfort, Distress, Queasy – Anxiety Symptoms

Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: November 13, 2019

Stomach Upset, Discomfort, Distress, Queasy anxiety symptoms common descriptions:

You may experience:

  • nausea
  • bloating
  • burning sensation in the stomach or pit of the stomach
  • gas, or being gaseous
  • belching, burping, excessive belching
  • feeling like there is a lump or knot in your stomach
  • stomach discomfort or distress
  • an uncomfortable fullness in your stomach
  • feeling like you have butterflies in your stomach
  • a tightness in your stomach
  • an ‘anxiety’ stomach
  • an excess of acidity
  • a ‘heavy’ stomach
  • a ‘rumbling’ after you eat sensation
  • an uneasiness in your stomach
  • acid reflux
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • loose stool
  • constipation
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • chronic stomach problems

To name a few.

Stomach distress may also cause erratic and sharp pains to radiate throughout the chest, neck, throat, and shoulder blades.

A person may have one, two, or all of the above symptoms.

The stomach upset anxiety symptom can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may have an upset stomach once in a while and not that often, have an upset stomach off and on, or have it all the time.

The stomach upset anxiety symptom upset anxiety symptom may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

The stomach upset anxiety symptom can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur ‘out of the blue’ and for no apparent reason.

The stomach upset anxiety symptom can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.

The stomach upset anxiety symptom can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations and variations are common.

What causes the stomach upset anxiety symptom?

Medical Advisory

When this symptom is caused by stress (including the stress anxiety causes), behaving anxiously activates the stress response. The stress response immediately causes specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in the body that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat – to either fight with or flee from it – which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response.

Part of the stress response changes include suppressing digestion so that all of the body’s resources can be made available for emergency action. When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about, and the body can relatively quickly return to normal functioning, including resuming digestion.

When stress responses occur too frequently, however, the body has a more difficult time recovering, which can result in the body remaining in a semi hyperstimulated state, since stress hormones are stimulants.

A body that becomes stress-response hyperstimulated can experience persistent emergency action readiness, which can cause lingering problems with digestion, including causing stomach problems, such as those listed above. Experiencing stomach upset is a common consequence of persistently elevated stress.

How to get rid of the stomach upset anxiety symptom?

Because this symptom is just a symptom of elevated stress, it needn’t be a cause for concern. It will subside when you reduce your stress and give your body ample time to calm down. As your body’s stress returns to a more normal level, symptoms of stress subside, including stomach upset. Therefore, this anxiety symptom needn’t be a cause for concern.

It’s worth noting that once the stomach becomes upset due to stress and/or anxiety, it may take some time for it to settle out. It’s not uncommon for stomach symptoms to take a lot longer to resolve than most people think. There can also be complications with resolving stomach upset once it gets going. In this regard, you may want to work with a Natural Nutritional Therapist, such Liliana Tosic, to help eliminate persistent stomach upset. Often, diet can play an important role in overcoming persistent stomach problems once they’ve gotten started.

Chapter 9 in the Recovery Support area of our website is our anxiety symptoms chapter. It contains detailed information about all anxiety symptoms, including what they are, why they occur, what you can do to eliminate them, and how many people experience them (the percentage of people who experience each anxiety symptom). Our anxiety symptoms chapter includes a more detailed description and explanation about anxiety caused stomach upset.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior – a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety’s underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

  • For a comprehensive list of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms Signs, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks symptoms can be powerful experiences. Find out what they are and how to stop them.
  • How to stop an anxiety attack and panic.
  • Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
    • Anxiety Test
    • Anxiety Disorder Test
    • OCD Test
    • Social Anxiety Test
    • Generalized Anxiety Test
  • Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to overcome it.

Return to Anxiety Symptoms section.

The Stress of My Job Destroyed My Stomach

I farted in my first ever yoga class. I was angling into cobra pose, twisting my torso upwards as my legs lay on the mat, when one squeaked out. Loudly.

I’d felt out of place before this happened. It was 11 am on a weekday at a yoga studio in a strip mall in a wealthy Connecticut suburb. I was the only man in the dozen-strong class and the youngest person by ten years. Surrounded by the wives of lawyers and financial analysts, the situation seemed funny. So I laughed. To fart is human, but to laugh at your own fart marks you as the kind of idiot for which states pass strict regulations on backyard fireworks.

“It’s okay,” the instructor said, kindly. “Sometimes when we stretch, it airs out our G.I. tract.”

I was on a mission, prescribed by a medical professional, to relax and have fun. And also, incidentally, to clear out my G.I. tract.

My life had been derailed by an inflammatory bowel condition. The hallmarks of gut issues are the expected unpleasant and unappetizing symptoms: diarrhea, abdominal pain, sudden fecal emergencies, flatulence. But an inflamed colon can also prevent the body from absorbing nutrients and cause enough blood loss to leave a person anemic (which a hematologist said I was). Poop issues, though I had them, were the least of my problems. I was always exhausted, like I had a flu that lasted months. On good days, I needed ten hours of sleep and four of couch rest. Sometimes, I was too woozy to walk through a Trader Joe’s without leaning on a cart.

The issue (and I am still not sure which exact GI condition I had) cut me down in my prime. At 25, I had become editor of an alt-weekly newspaper. Sure, it was a small one, covering the Bridgeport/Stamford region of Connecticut, but I had risen to editor, and I truly cared about the combo of investigative journalism, hyper-local news, arts coverage, and fuck you’s to anything establishment that made up this now nearly dead media format. Maybe I cared too much.

I was a typical millennial work martyr. I would start at 7 am, editing staffers’ and freelancers’ stories from home. Then I would go into the office, send off a flurry of emails, put in calls for my own stories, work through art designs with a production team, and then catch up on my writing until 7 pm. I would go back to my apartment, collapse on the sofa and watch MSNBC, all while staying attuned for news topics that could be analyzed at a local level.

Journalism is a naturally demanding career, and I was filled with anxiety by the job market. I got something that few of my college classmates—working barista jobs and retreating back to school—had not. So I felt like I needed to prove myself with this job to “make it.” My promotion meant I could afford to move out of Bridgeport, a harrowingly poor and sad city, and into a tony suburb where I rented an apartment that looked out on a small lake. I wanted to stay there.

I wasn’t apt at maintaining my personal life. Weekends were spent on errands, and the promotion to editor meant that the people who had been my friends were now depending on me for assignments or coverage of their band, shallowing all the relationships I had made in Connecticut.

All this tension, without real relief, burned holes into my gut. The summer after the promotion, I noticed the extreme fatigue, which I of course thought was a result of overwork. Then I started pooping blood.

I saw a gastroenterologist, who put me under for a colonoscopy and diagnosed me with ulcerative colitis. Then he pumped me full of prednisone. I only got worse. I was stretching myself thin with a cycle of work, closing my office door to “space out” and then catching up on nights and weekends.

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Eventually, I flubbed some facts writing a news story so badly I had to retract it, and I put a picture of the wrong band in a music article. I was forced to admit I was not going to move ahead professionally—as I obsessively wanted to—until I addressed this thing. I went on medical leave.

The gastroenterologist wanted to match the prednisone with a second steroid, which scared me. So I saw a naturopath. She had an office full of houseplants and prints of Japanese-looking art. She told me to call her Lisa. Her approach was clinical, but expansive. We talked for two hours at the first appointment. She asked about my gut symptoms, but also my diet, stress level, childhood experiences, possible sources of home toxins, exercise habits. She cost $100 per appointment, which I paid out of pocket.

At the next appointment, Lisa delivered her remedy: Do an “elimination diet,” a twelve-week ritual by which one stops eating every food anyone has ever been allergic to (wheat, dairy, tree nuts, oranges, coffee, etc.) and add each category back, slowly. If one then causes an abdominal cramp or projectile diarrhea, it might be the culprit.

Also, she said, “You need to have fun and relax. It can be anything—exercise, movies, alone time with reading, and tea. But everyone needs something.”

This is not an unusual treatment regimen, even among non-hippie docs, says David D. Clarke, a clinical gastroenterologist in Portland and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association. Clarke says that doctors in the G.I. field are becoming increasingly aware that their patients have “psycho-social issues.”

“Any kind of stress, a personal crisis or problems in the workplace, can have gastrointestinal effects,” Clarke says. The gut has an extensive set of nerves connected to the brain’s emotional network and research has shown that patients with gastrointestinal disorders even process pain differently, he notes.

Particularly, Clarke sees a lot of mentally high-functioning people who have “stressors they are not fully realizing.” Some have never processed childhood trauma or think their level of buttoned-up tension or hurried lifestyle are normal. His recommendation for some cases is not unlike Lisa’s: “Take some hours in your week purely for self-indulgence,” he says. “Find something that you enjoy so much you can’t wait to do it again.”

One of Clarke’s patients had been a competitive diver from age 5 to 18. Her father pushed her to excel. As an adult, she coached her kids’ diving team, in addition to usual work and parenting responsibilities. She was wound tight and started having digestive problems. The reprieve she took? “She took piano lessons,” Clarke says. “She never had any interest in music before. It just became this thing away from all the stressors in her life.” She loved it and showed improvement afterwards.

The goal of intentionally “having fun” or “relaxing,” when one does not naturally take to the concepts, is tricky. And as a newspaper editor, even going out to see bands or reading a new issue of the Atlantic (hoping to find inspiration for my own paper) had become extensions of work.

On medical leave, I had a lot of time for experimenting. I tried just picking up from where I left off as a teenager, reading superhero comics. I checked Frank Miller’s classic Batman graphic novels and Grant Morrison’s X-Men stories out of the library. They didn’t really stimulate me. I rented more movies and made sure to actually watch them. Exercise was limited because of my fatigue, but I put on a yellow safety vest and walked around the lake every night. When it froze over and I saw that ice-fishers were braving it, I walked across the lake one evening and felt touched by a sublime silence.

I was too mortified to go back to the place I’d gassed up, but I found another yoga studio, a tiny one run by a former corporate executive in the downstairs floor of her home. Some afternoons, I was her only client. When I felt good enough to really get into it, I felt that rush of endorphins called “yoga brain.”

The second part of Lisa’s plan, the elimination diet, was helpful to the first. One cannot eat the granola bars and frozen dinners I relied on as convenience food on such a diet. I ordered vegan, gluten-free cookbooks online. Preparing Thai curries, vegan chili, and sautéed quinoa and greens was actually a fun hobby.

Shilpa Ravella, an assistant professor in the division of digestive and liver diseases at Columbia Medical Center, says one of her first steps for patients with irritable bowel syndrome is moving them to a low-FODMAPS diet. A complex acronym, FODMAPS are carbohydrates that are not absorbed easily by the small intestine, including wheat, dairy products, and fried foods.

“Some patients find it has eliminated their symptoms in eight weeks,” Ravella says. “In some cases, was the cause of the problem. In others, it was agitating it further.”

Ravella says there is a distinction in how she treats patients with inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s, and irritable bowel syndrome, a collection of symptoms that may have sprung from an allergy or psychological issues. The latter require more direct medical containment of the core issues, not just fighting back the symptoms.

I sometimes wonder if I really had ulcerative colitis. A doctor definitely put a camera up my butt, noted the inflammation pattern, and diagnosed me. But I am now, years later, symptom-free thanks to lifestyle changes. (I stopped taking the prednisone.) Ravella says ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s usually require medication or surgery for full remission.

Getting healthy through a holistic approach ensures a slow process, with small victories: a post-breakfast hour uninterrupted by cramps, a solid bowel movement. If it works, there is a placebo-like influx of positive feelings which can feel healing in their own right.

Once I could handle a daily regimen of leisurely hiking and reading for pleasure, I decided it was time to go back to work, but I swore I was not going to make myself sick covering mayor-town council feuds and assigning restaurant reviews. It was a good time to give fewer fucks. Like many alt-weeklies, mine was in decline. Staffers left and were not replaced. The parent company left us with fewer resources to do the same job. The paper continued (for a few more years, anyway, ceasing publications 18 months after I left), but I was okay running less content, writing less myself, and borrowing news stories from our sister papers if it meant I was usually done at 5 pm.

And I took up kayaking. I rented from a small outdoor sports shop that lets you take a boat on the top of your car. Kayaking is peaceful and the movements hypnotic. It involves a commune with nature, the water an inch away and the waves rocking and straddling the boat. Air always tastes freshest on the water.

At the start of the summer after my illness, I took a kayak on the Long Island Sound, parking beneath a bridge holding up a bit of I-95. I rowed to an island chain I’d read about. Giving up processed foods and dairy (which seemed to be my trigger food), I had lost 50 pounds and I felt lean and capable. At sunset, I rowed back to the parking lot. I lifted the boat and carried it on my bicep back to the car. It wasn’t until I was tying onto the top of my car that I realized six months ago I never could have lifted it. It was the first time in a year I was not conscious of having been sick. And I was having so much fun I couldn’t wait to do it again.

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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

People feel the effects of stress and anxiety in many ways.

One common symptom is stomachaches. Anxiety can worsen symptoms of abdominal cramps and pain and make you literally feel sick to your stomach.

But when is it more than just an upset stomach? Millions suffer from gastrointestinal problems, including irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Also called IBS, this disorder is characterized by abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. Read on to learn more about IBS and its connection to stress and anxiety.

Approximately one in five adults in the United States has IBS. Women are more likely to experience symptoms, which usually begin in late adolescence or early adulthood.

There is no known specific cause, but some experts suggest people who suffer from IBS have a colon that is more sensitive and reactive to certain foods and stress. (The disorder is also known as spastic colon.) Although IBS can be painful and uncomfortable, it is not permanently damaging to the intestines, nor does it cause other gastrointestinal diseases.

People with IBS frequently suffer from anxiety and depression, which can worsen symptoms. That’s because the colon is in part controlled by the nervous system, which responds to stress. Evidence also suggests that the immune system, also responding to stress, plays a role. IBS can also make you feel more anxious and depressed.


While there is no cure for IBS, treatments can manage the symptoms and discomfort. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that up to 70 percent of people with IBS are not receiving treatment.

Of those who do seek treatment, research has found that 50 to 90 percent have a psychiatric disorder such as an anxiety disorder or depression.

Your doctor may recommend one or a combination of the following treatments:

  • Fiber supplements or laxatives to decrease constipation.
  • Antispasmodic medication to control muscle spasms in the colon and reduce abdominal pain.
  • Antidepressants to help minimize symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy to learn how to cope with anxiety and depression. The British Society of Gastroenterology recommends psychological therapy as the first-line treatment for IBS when the patient has a history of anxiety, panic attacks, or depression. The American College of Gastroenterology also recommends therapy and says it can reduce both anxiety and IBS symptoms in some patients.
    • Find a therapist near you.
  • Relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
  • Diet changes. For some, that may mean avoiding dairy products or carbonated beverages, which can aggravate symptoms. For others, that may mean increasing dietary fiber, which can relieve constipation, or eating smaller meals more often instead of two or three large meals, which can cause cramping.
  • Alosetrin hydrochloride (brand name is Lotronex) specifically treats IBS and has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for women. This medication is recommended only when over-the-counter medication and therapy are not effective, and when the primary symptom is diarrhea. Side effects can be serious and include decreased blood flow to the colon and severe constipation. Lubiprostone (brand name is Amitiza) is also approved by the FDA but only for adult women with IBS and constipation. Side effects include nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. There are no FDA-approved medications for men for the treatment of IBS.

Find out more

  • ADAA Podcast: Irritable Bowl Syndrome and General Anxiety
  • International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
  • National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (National Institutes of Health)
  • National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

Read all about Abdominal pain caused by stress

What is abdominal pain caused by stress

Abdominal pain caused by stress doesn’t have a physical cause. The complaints are caused by mental or emotional stress, which the body translates into physical symptoms, just like the knot in your stomach when you have a big test or an important meeting. Abdominal pain is a common physical symptom of mental or emotional stress.

What are symptoms of abdominal pain caused by stress

  • Nagging, vague abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloated feeling
  • Irregular consistency of stool
  • Flatulence

Is abdominal pain caused by stress serious and should I see a doctor

Abdominal pain caused by stress isn’t serious, but can be very bothersome. The cause isn’t physical and it usually isn’t necessary to contact a doctor. Everyone has an important deadline, test or meeting once in a while, which makes you a bit nauseated and causes a knot in your stomach. Know when to contact a doctor

Contact a doctor:

  • When you have a vague, nagging abdominal pain, without any other physical symptoms, for over 2 weeks

What can I do about abdominal pain caused by stress myself

  • Find the cause of the stress
  • Keep a diary documenting the abdominal pain
  • Try to relieve tensions at work or in your private life
  • Talk to friends about high pressure, stress or tension you’re experiencing
  • Relaxation exercises

How does abdominal pain caused by stress affect my body

With abdominal pain caused by stress the body translates emotional or mental stress to physical symptoms. This happens in a lot more situations for example burn-out and stage fright , but it can also happen with positive emotions think of the knot in your stomach when you’re in love or goosebumps you get when hearing beautiful music.

Because abdominal pain caused by stress doesn’t have a physical cause, it usually can’t be treated with medication. When there’s a long period of stress, that doesn’t go away doing relaxation exercises, talking to friends or discussing tensions with the people causing them, it can be good to talk to a psychologist. A doctor can refer you to an appropriate psychologist.

Think about how often people complain that doing something stressful (such as exams or job interviews) makes the stomach feel uneasy—there is a strong, documented relationship between stress and abdominal pain, and you do not have to be a medical expert to know that!

But could stress be the leading cause of abdominal pain? According to research, between 35% and 70% of people experience digestion-related problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain that have no known cause. These same people are often living with high levels of stress, according to the research. Isn’t that interesting?

One possible explanation for stress-related digestive problems (including abdominal pain) is that during a stressful situation, the body reacts as it would in the face of a physical threat. When actual danger or stress triggers this “fight-or-flight response,” digestion slows so that the body can use all its energy to deal with the situation.

Whatever the explanation, the important thing to note is that painful abdominal cramps and other symptoms can stress you out, leading to further pain and symptoms; therefore, finding a way to get out of the cycle of becoming stressed will really help.

Relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can help ease digestive problems and make it easier to cope with stressful situations. Below are a few relaxation techniques you may find helpful:

• Physical exercise: regular physical exercise, even something as simple as going for a walk, can help relieve tension and improve your mood. You could also try a relaxation therapy like T’ai Chi, meditation or yoga. Yoga is thought to calm your digestive system as well as your mind.

• Progressive muscle relaxation: this technique involves tensing and then relaxing muscles in your body. It is best to do this exercise in a quiet room, while comfortably seated or lying down. Starting at your head, squeeze your facial muscles as tight as you can, hold for a few seconds, and then relax. Notice the difference. Gradually work your way down to each body part until you reach your toes, tensing and relaxing as you go.

• Visualization: close your eyes and imagine yourself in a quiet, pleasant environment, such as a beach, an open field, a cottage, or another place where you would normally feel relaxed. Set a timer so you don’t have to worry how much time you spend on this exercise.

• Music: in a quiet room, or using headphones to block outside noise, spend a few minutes listening to relaxing instrumental music, such as a meditation CD.

• Laughter: telling or listening to jokes, or encouraging laughter by watching funny television programs, movies or other videos may help to relieve stress. Laughter stimulates the release of endorphins, substances that are responsible for increasing our sense of well-being.

• Wind down and make time for you – read a good book or a magazine, have a relaxing bath, or find your own personal way to chill out, just make the time.

If your stomach hurts, you might think the culprit is some misbehaving organ in your abdomen. That’s a definite possibility, but the offender could actually be your brain. Yup, just like chest pain, abdominal pain can be physical or mental.

Here’s a fascinating fact that might help you win at trivia night: Your mind is connected to your gut by way of the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in your body. (That means this nerve originates from your brain, not your spinal cord). You can think of this nerve as a bidirectional conduit that is constantly communicating back and forth between your brain and your gastrointestinal tract, Emeran A. Mayer, M.D., a professor of medicine, physiology, and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and author of The Mind-Gut Connection, tells SELF.

In fact, the majority of your body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, takes place in the digestive tract, Jacqueline Sperling, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of training and research the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, tells SELF. “When you’re experiencing something going on in your brain, it can communicate to the gut and vice versa,” she says.

So, how are you supposed to know if your abdominal pain is actually coming from that area or if your mental health might be behind your discomfort? Here, doctors explain the signs of each.

Here are six signs your abdominal pain could be physical.

1. You recently ate food that might have been contaminated.

Many triggers of abdominal pain are situational, James Marion, M.D., a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, tells SELF. Unfortunately, sometimes the situation in question is a nasty bout of foodborne illness.

Something as seemingly harmless as trying a new dish at a restaurant could leave your stomach feeling wonky. So can making these food safety mistakes when you’re cooking at home.

Foodborne illness can set in hours to days after eating something contaminated, though sometimes it might even take weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic. In any case, food poisoning can cause symptoms such as abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, vomiting, watery or bloody diarrhea, and a fever.

2. You’re burping and/or farting.

While it can seem like gas is only about burping and farting, pain is also a common symptom.

Gas often happens when your body is struggling to break down certain carbohydrates, leading to excess air in your system. For example, about 65 percent of people in the world have some amount of lactose intolerance, meaning they have a hard time processing a kind of sugar that’s present in dairy, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. If you’re one of them, going to town on cheese, milk, ice cream, and other products that contain lactose can result in abdominal pain, bloating, gas, nausea, and diarrhea. For many people, lactose intolerance develops in adulthood, so it can take time to pinpoint dairy as the source of your stomach troubles.

You can also burp, fart, have abdominal pain, and experience other gas symptoms due to things like swallowing too much air as you chew or drinking a lot of carbonated beverages. And sometimes gas is a symptom of a condition like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, in which case you’ll experience other signs that something is physically wrong, like bloody diarrhea and constant exhaustion. (Here’s how to tell the difference between IBS and IBD.)

Keep Stress From Causing an Upset Stomach

If you get butterflies in your stomach when you have to give a speech, drive through white-knuckle traffic, or argue with your spouse, you’re not alone: Stress can exact a very real physical toll on your digestive system. Your gut is extremely sensitive to stress and your overall emotions. And conversely, the right stress management techniques can help soothe an upset stomach.

The Link Between Your Gut and Your Emotions

The physical reason why emotions and stress can lead to stomachaches and other digestive problems is because the gut is highly sensitive and full of nerves, just like the brain.

“There is definitely a connection between the brain and the gut,” says Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “The gut is called the little brain — it’s the largest area of nerves outside the brain.”

Upset Stomach: Even Little Stresses Affect the Little Brain

Stress and nerves often have very noticeable physical symptoms that focus around the digestive tract.

“Any time you’re in a stressful situation, a lot of people will get butterflies in their stomach or may get diarrhea,” says Dr. Marrero. “It gets better when they get out of that stressful situation.”

And it’s not just the big events that lead to digestive problems or an upset stomach — you may have persistent stomachaches, but not quite be able to figure out what’s causing them. That’s because even small, daily stressors can affect the gut, says Marrero. He notes that there are many theories behind this connection between the gut and the brain, and that many different pathways communicate between the two that can lead to an upset stomach and other digestive problems as a result of stress.

“Sometimes we can try to reset the connection between the brain and the gut using medications for depression,” says Marrero. But you don’t always need medication to manage stress and regulate your digestive health.

Upset Stomach: Getting a Handle on Stress

If you want to settle an upset stomach that’s caused by nerves, it’s important to keep stress in check. Even daily stresses like job worries and problems at home can lead to subtle digestive problems.

Identifying the cause of the stress, understanding the gut’s natural reaction to it, and keeping stress under control are the most important parts of managing stress-related stomachaches and other digestive problems.

To reduce stress and manage digestive problems on your own, try these stress management tips:

  • Consider counseling to deal with what’s bothering you.
  • Try cognitive therapy.
  • Keep a journal of what’s stressing you, how you feel, and what you did to feel better.
  • Don’t take on more than you can handle — say no when you need to.
  • Prioritize your responsibilities.
  • Put problems in perspective, and stay positive about the good things in your life.

Your body’s automatic response to stress and other emotions may be a digestive reaction, which just goes to show how closely related your physical and emotional health really are. But that doesn’t mean that your stomach has to suffer every time you get upset or nervous. Learn how to tame your stress and keep it under control to keep digestive problems caused by your emotions under control as well.

Return to the Digestive Health Awareness Center.

How to Calm Nervous & Upset Stomach When Anxious

Those who deal with upset stomach from anxiety will likely tell you this is one of their most impairing symptoms. It comes at inopportune moments, it is uncomfortable, and it has a tendency to make you feel sick in a way that is incredibly distracting and impair your day-to-day activities.

Stomach upset is one of the reasons that anxiety can be hard to differentiate from many common illnesses or indigestion, as the upset stomach may feel similar to these types of conditions. Only a doctor can rule out illness so it is important to seek guidance from your physician before assuming your stomach problems are due to anxiety. But if they are from anxiety, there are ways that you can reduce it.

Anxiety and Focusing on Stomach Discomfort

Because anxiety can lead to stomach upset, those suffering from regular and persistent anxiety often find that their stomach is constantly bothering them. They may feel they need to always be near a bathroom, or they may have a difficult time eating or feeling comfortable during activities.

Yet it’s not just because your stomach is upset. Anxiety causes the mind to focus on the issues that are bothering you the most, and so when your stomach is bothering you because of anxiety, anxiety will cause that effect to be amplified.

Types of Stomach Upset From Anxiety

Anxiety and the stomach are linked in a variety of ways, and these links also cause your upset stomach to be experienced in different ways. You may find that you have:

  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Gurgling in your stomach
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling of needing to go to the bathroom

In some cases, your stomach may simply feel “off,” without a clear way to describe the experience. You simply know that something feels wrong. You may also experience severe stomach tension, which may also give your stomach a feeling of being ill.

What Causes Anxiety Related Upset Stomach?

Scientists have many different theories about why anxiety causes an upset stomach. One of the key beliefs is that anxiety causes changes in neurotransmitter function, particularly serotonin. There are serotonin (and other neurotransmitter) receptors in the gut, and so when your body is experiencing anxiety, it’s likely receiving chemicals that tell it to respond with that upset feeling.

Other causes include:

  • Adrenaline Body Changes Adrenaline works with cortisol, the stress hormone, to allow the body to respond to danger quickly. These hormones may change the general physiological traits of the gut. Further, the ratio of good versus bad bacteria in the GI system may be altered by these hormones.
  • Slowed Digestion Anxiety activates the fight or flight system. Studies have shown that the speed of digestion decreases as a result of the fight or flight system, and this may cause discomfort in the stomach and intestines as a result.
  • Stomach Tension Anxiety also puts a great deal of pressure on the stomach muscles, and these, in turn, put pressure on the stomach. Any stomach pressure has the potential to change the way that your stomach feels during periods of stress.

The way stress affects your body is so unique to each individual that it can be hard to track exactly what it’s doing to any given person. It may be that anxiety changes the way your body processes nutrients, leading to stomach upset. It may also be that when your immune system is weak from stress, germs that are present in your stomach bother your immune system more.

All of these are potential issues that lead to problems with your stomach during periods of stress.

How to Control Your Anxiety Upset Stomach

Stomach upset can really put a damper on your ability to live a happy life. Ideally, you’ll need to treat your anxiety to experience a calmer stomach.

Even though anxiety is causing your stomach to feel sick, many of the symptoms can be reduced with various medications. You should always consult with a doctor before taking medication and do not want to rely on medication to “cure” your upset stomach. However, many people have had success with basic medications that calm the stomach. Common examples include:

  • Tums
  • Pepto-Bismol
  • Rolaids

Eating healthier can also help. Remember that your anxiety is affecting your gut, but it’s not causing the symptoms all on its own. What’s in your stomach has an effect on the severity of the symptoms as well. Eating healthier – especially on days you expect to experience anxiety – can be very helpful. Drinking water may also be useful since water is gentle on the stomach.

You may also try distracting yourself. While your upset stomach may be severe, anxiety causes a tendency to focus on the experience, which causes further anxiety and exacerbates the severity of the stomach pain. A positive distraction, like a funny TV show, can actually make a big difference in the way you experience your upset stomach.

Finally, you’ll need to prevent your anxiety so that you don’t experience frequent gastrointestinal distress. You can do this through therapy, medication, self-help, meditation, sports, and more – all of which are highly effective at decreasing anxiety when completed correctly. Once your anxiety decreases, your stomach upset should decrease with it in both frequency and severity.

Home Care for Vomiting, Stomachaches, and Nausea

  • Stay hydrated. If stress or over-excitement has caused you or the kids to vomit, it’s important to stay hydrated, but do wait 30 to 60 minutes after vomiting before putting anything in your stomach, says Scott Cohen, MD, FAAP, an attending physician at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and a pediatrician. Then take it very slowly, sipping one teaspoon of fluids at a time. Steer clear of solid foods until it’s been six hours since the last time you vomited.
  • Food and drinks. Many swear that peppermint tea or ginger soothe a nervous stomach or foil nausea. Ginger can be a hard sell for kids though, and the more popular remedy, ginger-ale, usually “isn’t made with real ginger, it’s really liquid candy, and we don’t recommend it,” Tolcher tells WebMD. Chances are good you already know what helps calm stomachache in you or your kids. It could be soup, seltzer, crackers, toast, or some other comfort food.
  • Medications: Some help. Others don’t. Many over-the-counter medications can help you deal with vomiting or one or more of the side effects of a nervous stomach, like nausea, diarrhea, or acidity, including Alka-Seltzer, Emetrol, Mylanta, Pepto-Bismal, Similac, or Tums. To know which medication is most appropriate for your symptom, talk to your doctor. If you’re trying to mellow a stomachache by popping medicines with ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), don’t. Ibuprofen generally won’t help, and can sometimes make a stomachache worse.
  • Avoid strong odors. If your tummy is queasy or you feel like you’re going to vomit, steer clear of strong odors like cooking smells, smoke, and perfumes, they can help tip you from “almost” to “definitely.”
  • Lifestyle changes. Constipation can also be a symptom of stress in kids or adults, “and for that we use things like dietary changes, fiber supplements or laxatives,” says Tolcher. If diarrhea is the problem fiber supplements and probiotics (like those found in yogurt, or in some supplements) might help relieve stress-triggered bowel pain.

These are just a few ways to get your body and mind back in balance. If anxiety and stress become overwhelming and you’re dealing with the physical pain of that pressure daily, be sure to reach out and get help.

Anxiety Nausea: What You Need to Know to Feel Better

The symptoms you feel due to anxiety are very real. Your body is responding to a perceived threat. Absent a true emergency situation, there are some things you can do help to control anxiety and nausea.

Coping with anxiety

When anxiety takes hold, try to focus on the present rather than stressing about what may happen later. Consider what’s happening in the moment and remind yourself that you’re safe and that the feeling will pass.

Take long, deep breaths. Or try to distract yourself by listening to your favorite song or counting backwards from 100.

It takes time for your body to get the signal that you’re not in immediate danger, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

ways to cope with anxiety

There are also a few things you can do to cope with anxiety in the long term, such as:

  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a healthy, balanced diet
  • limiting alcohol and caffeine
  • getting enough sleep
  • keeping up with your friends and maintain your social network
  • having a plan in place: learn meditation, aromatherapy, or deep breathing exercises you can use when you feel anxious

If you have chronic anxiety, see your primary care physician for a thorough checkup. Your doctor can refer you to licensed professionals who can help determine your triggers, address your anxiety issues, and teach you how to keep it from spiraling out of control.

Coping with nausea

What to do when nausea hits

Try these when you feel nauseated:

  • Eat a small amount of something dry, like plain crackers or plain bread.
  • Slowly sip water or something clear and cold.
  • If you’re wearing something tight, change into clothing that doesn’t restrict your stomach.
  • Try to calm yourself by taking long, deep breaths.

Avoid these things when you feel nauseated:

  • fried, greasy, and sweet foods
  • mixing hot and cold foods
  • intense physical activity

If your nausea continues or worsens there are things you can do to help prevent or stop vomiting. If you’re vomiting:

  • drink water and other clear liquids in small sips to replenish lost fluids
  • rest and avoid physical activity
  • don’t eat solid food until it passes

In the long term:

  • stay away from heavy, greasy foods
  • stay hydrated, but limit alcohol and caffeine
  • eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than three big meals

If you frequently need over-the-counter nausea medications or vomit often, talk to your doctor.

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