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Is Nausea A Symptom Of Anxiety

by Clara Wynn
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Is Nausea A Symptom Of Anxiety

Is Nausea A Symptom Of Anxiety

Is Nausea A Symptom Of Anxiety? You’re sitting at home minding your own business when you suddenly feel a wave of nausea roll over you like an ocean swell. You clench your stomach muscles but the feeling only intensifies to the point where you can barely breathe through your nose or mouth without gagging on vomit. Your heart rate accelerates as panic sets in. What’s happening? Is it food poisoning? Or maybe you’ve been bitten by a snake? No, this is not one of those scenarios. This is what happens when your brain goes haywire.

Your brain is responsible for keeping everything running smoothly inside your head. It helps you make sense of your environment; keeps track of who you are, how much money you have and what you need to do next; gives you the ability to remember things that happened yesterday, last week and last year; and, most importantly, allows you to think, reason, empathize, plan and dream. That’s a lot of responsibility! Unfortunately, if something goes wrong with your brain, it will often throw off its internal GPS so badly that it ends up driving you completely insane. For example, let’s say you just got back from vacation and you start having thoughts about all the places you’d rather go than visit again. Now imagine yourself being driven by these thoughts to get out of bed, dress, drive to a grocery store, buy toilet paper and then drive to another grocery store in order to stock up on beer and snacks while simultaneously planning a future trip to Hawaii. If you were doing any of these tasks, which would be more difficult — getting ready for work, buying groceries or thinking about going to Hawaii?

Anxiety disorders affect millions of people worldwide every day. According to research published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, approximately 18 percent of American adults suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. In fact, according to WebMD, anxiety disorders may very well be the most common mental health problem in the United States. And yet, we still don’t know enough about them to properly diagnose and treat them. One of the reasons why there are so many mysteries surrounding anxiety disorders is because they often manifest themselves differently among different people. Just like when you stub your toe, it hurts immediately, but when someone else stumbles and falls down, it really doesn’t hurt until later, after the initial pain has subsided. With anxiety, the same thing occurs. People experience symptoms differently depending upon their unique genetic makeup, life experiences and current emotional state. And when you add in the wide range of possible triggers (from childhood trauma to environmental factors) associated with anxiety disorders, it becomes exponentially more complicated. So just because you started experiencing certain physical symptoms does not necessarily mean that they are related to your anxiety.

One such symptom experienced by many anxious people across the world is nausea. However, unlike other types of nausea brought on by sicknesses like influenza, pregnancy or motion sickness, nausea caused by anxiety tends to come and go quickly. Most sufferers report that their symptoms begin slowly, building into full-blown bouts of nausea within hours.

In addition to causing feelings of discomfort, nausea also interferes with our everyday lives. When we’re nauseated, we tend to avoid eating and drinking anything that could possibly aggravate the situation. We also avoid situations that involve social interaction, loud noises, exercise, travel and changes in routine. These avoidance behaviors become compulsive and are known as “nausea attacks” or “anxious moments.” They usually occur at least once a day, sometimes several times per hour. Because of how disruptive nausea can be, people suffering from anxiety often take anti-depressant medications to help control their condition. Many doctors believe that anxiety causes the stomach to release too much serotonin, resulting in nausea. Other theories suggest that stress hormones called catecholamines cause the stomach lining to shrink, making it easier for particles to pass through and triggering nausea. Still others claim that the stomach sends signals to the brain warning us of impending doom and that the brain misinterprets those messages as signs of imminent danger. Whatever the exact cause, nausea seems to be a side effect of anxiety.

So, is there any relief? Can you actually prevent or cure anxiety-induced nausea? Read on to find out.

Causes of Anxiety-Induced Nausea

If you suffer from occasional bouts of nausea, you aren’t alone. About 25 percent of people with chronic illness complain of nausea, including women with morning sickness during pregnancy, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and people recovering from surgery. But for people who suffer from constant nausea, it can lead to depression, fatigue and weight loss.

As mentioned earlier, one theory states that anxiety itself might trigger nausea due to increased levels of stress hormones called catecholamines released in response to stress. Another popular idea suggests that nausea comes from a combination of excess levels of serotonin in the blood and decreased activity in parts of the brain that regulate nausea. Yet another study found that people who had suffered from acute anxiety before taking part in a stressful experiment reported higher rates of nausea compared to subjects who did not experience anxiety beforehand.

The bottom line here is that researchers haven’t uncovered exactly why nausea happens in connection with anxiety. Regardless, treatments exist for both conditions, allowing anxious people to combat nausea naturally.

Treatment Options for Anxiety-Related Nausea

When it comes to treating general forms of nausea, medication is probably your best bet. Anti-nausea drugs known as 5-HT3 antagonists include Zofran, Granisetron and Cimetidine. Zofran is used primarily to manage severe nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy treatment. Granisetron is prescribed to reduce nausea and vomiting associated with medical procedures, like endoscopy and colonoscopy, as well as surgeries. Cimetidine reduces gastric acid secretion, thus reducing the likelihood of heartburn, indigestion and reflux. While these drugs have been shown to successfully alleviate milder cases of nausea, they shouldn’t be relied upon for more serious episodes. Severe nausea accompanied by chest pains should always be checked out by a doctor.

Other options include acupuncture, herbal remedies and relaxation techniques. Acupuncture works by inserting thin needles into specific points along energy pathways throughout the body. By using pressure to stimulate acupoints, practitioners can increase the flow of qi (energy). Qi is thought to play a role in regulating bodily functions, including digestion. Herbal remedies, specifically ginger root and turmeric, have long been used to relieve nausea and calm upset stomachs. Relaxation techniques, like guided imagery, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, teach people how to relax and cope with anxiety.

Now that you understand how anxiety affects your stomach, read on to discover how you can learn to deal with your anxiety-related nausea.

Nausea is definitely not the sole province of anxious people. Anyone who’s ever felt the sudden urge to puke in the middle of a party knows what I’m talking about. Try putting yourself in such a scenario. Do you think you could handle it calmly and gracefully? Probably not. As a matter of fact, chances are good that you wouldn’t be able to hold onto your drink for very long. Even though you may want to blame your anxiety for your uncomfortable situation, you’ll realize pretty quickly that you’re actually not at fault here.

Coping Skills for Anxiety-Induced Nausea

There are two ways to look at coping skills. On the one hand, you have the approach of telling yourself that you can overcome whatever obstacles you face because you’re strong enough to handle it. On the other hand, you have the approach of accepting that you can’t control everything and focusing on taking care of yourself instead of trying to force yourself to endure something that makes you miserable. Which approach you choose depends largely upon the severity of your circumstances.

Regardless of which approach you decide to follow, it’s important to recognize that no one likes dealing with nausea. It’s unpleasant, inconvenient and embarrassing. Everyone feels it at some time or another, and it’s especially frustrating when you feel compelled to hide it from friends and family. There are literally hundreds of jokes available online that revolve around the topic of nausea, while commercials and sitcoms seem to pop up everywhere you turn to remind you that people are subject to it too.

However, there is hope. There are lots of natural methods for relieving anxiety. Whether you decide to try acupuncture, herbs or meditation, the key to overcoming your anxiety-induced nausea lies in your willingness to give yourself permission to accept your emotions and allow yourself to move forward. Remember that your nausea isn’t a sign that you’re weak. Instead, it’s a sign that your brain needs processing. Allow yourself to relax and try to take small steps toward recovery each day. You’ll soon notice that the nausea begins to subside and eventually disappears altogether.

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