How anxiety causes stomach pain
Anxiety can disrupt your gastrointestinal system and cause stomach pain in the following ways:
Heartburn or acid reflux1
When you are stressed, you may eat too quickly, swallow too much air, or eat too much of the wrong food, or too little of the right food, causing heartburn pain.
Anxiety also causes your body to go into “fight mode”—when it thinks there is a threat, ie, something stressful, it releases stress hormones in defense. These hormones affect how you digest food, resulting in heartburn and reflux issues.
And, if you use tobacco or alcohol to relieve your anxiety, both substances can trigger excess stomach acid, because they irritate the stomach.
Bowel issues, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome1-3
Bouts of anxiety can cause gas pains, diarrhea, and constipation. That’s because in part, stress is known to impact the speed at which food moves through your body (faster or slower), leading to stomach issues.
Not only that, anxiety can contribute to a chronic condition called Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which causes people to experience stomach pain, gas, bloating, belching, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.
Anxiety is known to cause muscle tension, and that includes tensing up the muscles in your stomach. This can result in stomach pain.
Nausea and vomiting2,4,5
If you suffer from anxiety or have panic attacks due to your anxiety, you may also find you get nauseous—you may even feel as if you have to throw up.
Some foods may be better than others6, 7
Try adding foods with insoluble fiber (whole grains), to straighten out your digestion and help relieve stomach pain. These foods include whole wheat cereals, pastas, breads, and other baked goods. Also, try to eat one high fiber serving daily, such as high fiber cereal or a bulking agent. Start out gradually over a period of days and weeks, so that your body can get used to the changes.
Just add water—in order for fiber to give you its digestive benefits, you should drink plenty of cool (not icy) water. This helps keep things moving smoothly.
Avoid these foods6,7
Foods with saturated fat bother your intestines and are difficult to digest. That’s why it’s best to avoid fried foods, red meat, and high fat processed foods. Caffeine stimulates the gastrointestinal tract and can add to your stomach problems, so it’s best to avoid it. It’s also a good idea to limit alcohol, particularly beer, which can worsen stomach pain.
What else can you do to ease stomach pain due to anxiety? 6,7
- Take peppermint oil, ginger root, and slippery elm—to soothe the digestive tract and reduce stomach pain
- Add a probiotic supplement and digestive enzymes—to create balance in your digestive system
- Lie down with a heating pad or hot water bottle—to relieve stomach tightness and cramping
- Perform self-massage when you feel stomach pain—lying on your bed with your knees bent, gently massage tense areas
- Use deep breathing and positive mental imagery or meditation on a regular basis
By combining these remedies with other natural forms of anxiety relief, the chances of reducing your anxiety-related stomach pain can be increased.
- The American Institute of Stress. 50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress. Available at: http://www.stress.org/stress-effects/ . Accessed on October 1, 2012.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Available at: http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs.Accessed on October 1, 2012.
- National Institutes of Health (NIH). Generalized anxiety disorder. Medline Plus. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000917.htm. Accessed on October 1, 2012.
- US Department of Health and Human Services. Anxiety disorders fact sheet. WomensHealth.gov. Available at: http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/anxiety-disorders.cfm. Accessed on October 1, 2012.
- Cleveland Clinic. An overview of anxiety disorders. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/Anxiety_Disorder/hic_An_Overview_of_Anxiety_Disorders.aspx. Accessed on October 1, 2012.
- Gottlieb B. Techniques to help control anxiety and panic attacks. Alternative cures: the most effective natural home remedies for 160 health problems. 2000. Rodale. 33-37.
- Balch JF, Stengler M. Anxiety. Prescription for Natural Cures. 2004. John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, NJ. 46-52