Feeling Sick as a Symptom of Anxiety

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Feeling sick or nauseous can sometimes be brought about by tension in the stomach. People vary in the areas of their bodies which are most susceptible to symptoms when anxious. There is more information on this in the section on chest pains.

The area to which the anxiety channels itself may be due to hereditary tendencies or is even learnt from past experience. Either way, for some people, once they become anxious and their muscles become tense they may start to fear that they will be sick.

For sufferers this has a similar effect to those who are afraid of fainting in that concentrating on the symptom and increasing the fear of it happening is what can actually make it happen.

Just as if you fear fainting, you focus on each new symptom as confirmation that it is happening, so too those who have learnt a fear of being sick are actually tending to make it happen by focusing on it and the fear of it.

This is yet another example of the panic attack spiral (see diagram here) except that the focus is on the physical symptom of feeling sick rather than of feeling faint.

Please note that nausea can also be due to various physical causes and you must always get checked out by your doctor before assuming that it is due to anxiety.

If you have this symptom it is likely that whenever you get really anxious you get a tight feeling in your stomach  and you immediately start to be afraid you may throw up.

You start to focus on this feeling and fear it may get worse. Of course, since you are feeding fear to your survival instinct, the feeling will usually get worse! (For an explanation of how the survival instinct works see the section on Causes of Anxiety)

How do I cope with feeling nauseous?

Feeling sick as a symptom of anxiety is very similar in many respects to having a panic attack. In the long term the best way to address this is by unlearning the association between being sick and fear. This can be done but the means to do it requires a different approach from any coping strategy that you might use when you find yourself  in the grip of your anxiey.

Details of the long term approach can be found in the general approach to overcoming anxiety - the Feelgood Way.

As a coping strategy, before learning to retrain this reaction so it no longer provokes increased anxiety, if it were me, I would try to remain as calm as possible and take myself off somewhere, such as the toilets, where I could calm myself down and where it wouldn't really matter if I were to throw up.

The way it works goes like this...

focusing elsewhere

Whenever you become afraid of any symptom, go somewhere that it doesn't matter and calm yourself by focusing on something else.

Try not to monitor the symptom to check whether it's getting worse because that's exactly what WILL happen if you focus on it.

Always remember...

If you don't think about it, it can't get you!

In the days when I still had panic attacks, that's a statement I kept repeating to myself whenever I started to feel panicky. It does work as long as you actually have the guts to take your mind away from what you are afraid of!

The techniques required to be able to move your mind away from what you're afraid of need to be learnt and perfected when you're not feeling anxious in order for you to have the courage to apply them when you are. This is part of the longer term strategy.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety

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navigation logo showing woman with chest pains
navigation logo showing man feeling nauseous
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  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Anxiety Symptoms
  3. Feeling Sick