Why Does Stress Upset My Stomach
Your digestive tract has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system . It contains 100 million neurotransmitters, neurons, and nerves that are located throughout your entire gastrointestinal system. Have you ever been excited or nervous and felt like you had butterflies in your stomach? Or got some bad news that made you feel sick to your stomach? Or maybe youve got a gut feeling about someone after first meeting them. These are all examples of how your emotions can physically affect your digestive tract.
Are There Foods That Reduce Stomach Pain
Anxiety-related stomach pain is not usually the result of your diet , so there arent 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, its possible to have stomach pain even without a panic attack.
Also, those with anxiety attacks and severe anxiety are prone to whats 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.
Thats why healthy eating is important in those that get stomach pain with anxiety. Make sure youre getting:
- Whole-Grain Carbohydrates
Also, if you suffer from stress-induced hyperacidity, then it is recommended that you consume dairy products and non-spicy foods. In moderate amounts, over-the-counter antacids may be needed as well.
In addition, if possible, try to avoid eating until youre too full. Those with severe anxiety sometimes interpret the full feeling as pain, and this could trigger a panic attack and further pain.
What Causes Abdominal Pain In Children
Common causes of abdominal pain in children include:
- trapped wind
- lower urinary tract problems, such as cystitis
Most abdominal pain is mild and will go away without treatment after a few days. However, your child should see a doctor if the pain is severe or doesnt go away, especially when they also have other symptoms, such as a fever. In this case, you should ensure they are monitored closely and they may need further medical assessment.
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Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety
In fact anxiety is associated with a host of physical symptoms, including headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, along with a racing heart, shakiness or sweating symptoms older people experience when theyre having a panic attack.
All these physical symptoms are related to the fight-or-flight response triggered when the brain detects danger. All of them have a purpose, notes , a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. When she talks to kids about anxious headaches or stomach aches, she explains the role of each. For instance, she says, your stomach hurts because your digestive system is shutting down to send blood to other areas of your body. You dont want to be digesting food at that moment because youre trying to either flee danger or fight danger.
Dr. Domingues assures children that these symptoms are not harmful theyre just their emergency system responding to a false alarm. But its important to understand that kids arent necessarily inventing their symptoms, and the danger may feel very real to them. Dont assume a child who spends a lot of time in the nurses office at school is doing it intentionally to get out of class. Their acute anxiety may be causing them pain.
Headaches and stomach aches related to anxiety are still real feelings, and we want to take them seriously, says Ms. Greenspan.
Here Are Two Signs Your Abdominal Pain Could Be Mental
Whether your stomach cramps strike every time you have to take a flight or before big work presentations, it could be a sign that youre so stressed its affecting your gut.
Theres a clear connection between the brain and our emotions and how our body feels, says Sperling. Realizing that your abdominal pain always crops up around moments of fear, stress, or anxiety can help you figure out that your emotions are behind the discomfort.
If you already know you have anxiety but are having a hard time managing this symptom, talk to your doctor or therapist to see if any tweaks in your treatment may help. If youre not sure your abdominal pain is connected with changes in your emotions, consider keeping a journal for a few weeks to chart how you feel and how your pain comes and goes in response.
In the event that your GI issues do seem tied with mental health concerns like anxiety, a mental health professional may be able to help you through methods like cognitive behavioral therapy . This form of therapy aims to help people identify and change unhelpful thoughts and behaviors to live healthier, happier lives. If youre interested in trying it, heres a guide on how to find an affordable therapist.
While undeniably horrible in the moment, panic attacks are highly treatable with medication, therapy such as CBT, and coping mechanisms like deep breathing, according to the Mayo Clinic. See your doctor or therapist for help if you think youre having panic attacks.
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How To Talk With Kids About Stomachaches
If youre a parent or caregiver, its important to talk with your child about the stomachaches to find out whats going on. Even if you think your child is faking it, something real is happening that needs to be addressed. It might be trouble with reading or other difficulties with schoolwork. Or maybe its social anxiety related to bullying.
What Happens When Youre Stressed Out
- Your gut bacteria changes. Bad bacteria start to flourish, and good bacteria begin to die off. This changes the way foods you eat are digested.
- Your gut gets leakier. When you eat processed foods, some of the molecules escape from your intestine into your immune-processing pathways, increasing inflammation and other problems.
- Your mood changes. Your gut produces even more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin than your brain. But stress cuts its production, leaving you feeling uneasy and at risk of depression.
- Your fight, flight or freeze switch stays on. Diverting all your energy to your muscles helped in prehistoric times: When you saw the woolly mammoth coming, you could quickly run away, hit him on the nose and knock him out, or play dead. After the mammoth moved on, you could relax. Chronic stress keeps your emergency button on all the time. Your digestion remains altered, causing bloating, cramps, diarrhea and constipation.
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What Causes A Stomach Ache
Stomach problems are common, so your cramps could be caused by a number of different things.
Here are a few of the most common culprits behind an achy stomach:
- Gastritis. Gastritis is another name for inflammation of the stomach lining. It can be caused by a number of things, including bacterial infections, the use of certain drugs, age, or tobacco or alcohol use. Gastritis can cause upper stomach pain, nausea, and a feeling of fullness in your stomach.
- Acid reflux. Acid reflux, also known as gastrointestinal reflux disease, occurs when stomach acid gets backed up into the esophagus. It causes an aching or burning sensation in the stomach and behind the breastbone. Acid reflux can be caused by problems like a hiatal hernia, as well as by eating fatty or spicy foods.
- Lactose intolerance. Do you find yourself doubled over in pain after drinking a glass of milk or eating cheese? You could be lactose intolerant. People with lactose intolerance cant digest dairy, which leads to stomach pain and other digestive issues.
- Stress. Stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms, including stomach aches.
Should I Be Getting Screened Regularly For Colon Cancer Or Other Gi Tract Cancers
As of 2021, the United States Preventative Services Task Force and major GI medical societies recommend that adults at average risk for colorectal cancer are regularly screened beginning at age 45.
People who have a family history of colorectal cancer or other GI tract cancers, including stomach or pancreas cancer, or a history of GI conditions like inflammatory bowel disease may need routine cancer screening earlier than age 45.
Talk your primary care physician about your risk and ask if you should get tested.
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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 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.
All of these are potential issues that lead to problems with your stomach during periods of stress.
What Can Parents Do To Help
The first thing our experts suggest is something parents should not do, or at least try not to do: Let kids avoid things they are afraid of. It can be very tempting when children are complaining of a headache or stomach ache to let them stay home from school, or skip the party or the game theyre worried about. But avoidance actually reinforces the anxiety.
If were allowing them to avoid it, says Ms. Greenspan, then theyre not able to learn that they can tolerate it. The message needs to be: I know it hurts, I know its uncomfortable, but I know you can do it.
Another things parents should not do is ask children leading questions like Are you worried about the math test? Questions should be open ended, to avoid suggesting that you expect them to be anxious: How are you feeling about the math test?
If the problems your child is having are disrupting their ability to go to school consistently or concentrate at school, participate in activities, socialize with peers they might have developed an anxiety disorder that should be treated by a mental health professional. The treatment favored by most clinicians for anxiety disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy . CBT helps kids as young as 5 years old identify their anxiety and learn skills to reduce it.
The techniques clinicians teach children to calm down body and mind can also be deployed by parents, for children with less impairing symptoms.
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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.
What About Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a stress-sensitive gut disorder that affects 10-15% of adults. It is a functional disorder, which means tests of the intestinal tract look normal and healthy, yet the bodily processes are irregular or different to usual. Having a nervous belly is different to IBS. A nervous belly occurs only when you anticipate a nerve wracking event, but IBS is chronic and occurs for 3 months or longer.
IBS can create terrible abdominal discomfort such as cramping, diarrhea or constipation that interferes with normal daily activities. Although there is no clear cause, the symptoms are very real. These symptoms can come and go, flare up or become chronic causing great distress because you never know when they will arrive and ruin a day.
Irritable bowel syndrome is tightly associated with stress and anxiety with greater psychological distress resulting in greater symptoms. The stress doesnt cause IBS, but rather aggravates the symptoms.
It is now thought that continual distress or chronic stress activates the immune system. The body thinks the stress is a real threat and prepares to fight it. This ongoing immune activation affects the gut. Having the immune system activated for so long can change the composition of the gut microbiome, which may then create further physical symptoms.
Many people with IBS are prescribed medications, that ironically enough, further inflame the gut. But a study on a new psychological treatment has found some promising results.
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Related Conditions Of Abdominal Pain
Some of the most common conditions associated with abdominal pain include the following:
Irritable Bowel Syndrome This condition is characterized by symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating.
Constipation If you arent having regular bowel movements, you may feel bloated and full and experience sharp gas pains in your abdomen.
Peptic Ulcer When a sore develops in the lining of your stomach or upper small intestine, you may experience a burning sensation similar to hunger pangs, along with nausea, vomiting, or heartburn.
Pancreatitis Inflammation of your pancreas may cause sharp, severe pain in the upper middle area of your abdomen, along with nausea, vomiting, or fever. This condition can be either acute or chronic.
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Gut Health And Anxiety
Given how closely the gut and brain interact, it becomes easier to understand why you might feel nauseated before giving a presentation, or feel intestinal pain during times of stress. That doesn’t mean, however, that functional gastrointestinal conditions are imagined or “all in your head.” Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms. Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut, as well as symptoms. In other words, stress can affect movement and contractions of the GI tract.
In addition, many people with functional GI disorders perceive pain more acutely than other people do because their brains are more responsive to pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.
Based on these observations, you might expect that at least some patients with functional GI conditions might improve with therapy to reduce stress or treat anxiety or depression. Multiple studies have found that psychologically based approaches lead to greater improvement in digestive symptoms compared with only conventional medical treatment.
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When Should I See The Doctor
If gastrointestinal symptoms and pain persist for more than a few days, you should consult a doctor. You may be instructed to undertake certain tests or see a specialist if there are signs of a more life threatening medical condition. If you experience abdominal pain and the following symptoms, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible:
- Vomiting blood
- The abdomen is larger than usual and hard
- Rectal bleeding
- You stop having bowel movements
These symptoms may suggest the pain is linked with a biological disease and is not a symptom of IBS or another functional gastrointestinal disorder.
Saying Goodbye To Your Nervous Stomach
Dealing with anxiety and stomach pain is definitely not fun, and it can be tough to implement stress-relieving activities on a busy day. But over time, your incidents of stomach discomfort or nausea will fade into the past! Remember that consistency is key and that getting frustrated will only increase your stomach pains.
Try to be patient and give yourself some grace.
As always, be sure to talk with your doctor before implementing any major changes in your lifestyle. They can even connect you with valuable resources to make sure your new routine sticks and continues to prevent episodes of stomach discomfort.
For more information on exercise, lifestyle, and mental health, check out the rest of our blog!
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When To Reach Out For Help If You Have Stomach Pain
Recurring stomach pain or persistent abdominal discomfort warrants a visit to the doctor to investigate. LetÃ¢s look at when itÃ¢s time to call your doctor versus getting help immediately.
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Pain in the scrotum/testicles Ã¢ for the fellas, obviously
- If you are a female who is, or may be, pregnant
- Pink, red or tea-colored urine
- Fever, depending on age: 0-3 months: > 100.4 F 3-24 months: > 102 F 2 yrs+: > 104 F
- Any fever lasting longer than 72 hours
Go to the ER:
- Vomiting bile
- Possible poisoning with a medicine, plant, or chemical
- For our babes < 2 years old: severe attacks of abdominal pain or crying, followed suddenly by 2-10 minutes of quiet
- Sharp, sudden pain â especially if itÃ¢s localized to one exact spot
- Upper abdominal pain â this is how some people, especially adults, experience chest pain. This can be indicative of an issue with your heart, especially when accompanied by shortness of breath, nausea, jaw or back pain. While this can be due to indigestion, itÃ¢s better to be safe than sorry!