Anxiety and Gastrointestinal Disorders such as stomach pain are often related. Anxiety is a leading cause of gastrointestinal problems, and gastrointestinal disorders can trigger anxiety. It can be a double-edged sword!
The idea that anxiety and GI diseases are related is not new. In fact, some doctors believe that they’re two sides of the same coin. The more anxious you become, the more likely you are to have recurring GI problems. And when your stomach’s in knots, it can be difficult to calm down and think clearly.
Researchers studied 11 studies on the correlation between IBS symptoms, such as constipation or diarrhoea, and anxiety disorder. The lead researcher found that in many of the studies, there was a trend for individuals with an anxiety disorder to have higher rates of IBS symptoms.
So, can anxiety cause stomach pain? And what can be done when you start experiencing a nervous stomach? Here’s everything you need to know.
How to Manage Anxiety-related Stomach Pain?
Stomach pain is a common symptom of anxiety. One should know that stomach pain has many causes, and if it’s just an occasional stomachache, it may not be related to anxiety at all. However, if the pain persists for more than two weeks or worsens with increased levels of stress, then it is quite likely that you may need to talk to a medical professional about your abdominal pain.
Common physical symptoms of anxiety-related stomach pain are:
- Stomach discomfort
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
When the brain receives a signal that something isn’t right, like a stressful event or feeling out of control, it can often play havoc with your digestive system and lead to stomach pain or a nervous stomach feeling. These physical symptoms are letting us know that something is not quite right – and shouldn’t be ignored!
What is anxiety-related stomach pain?
There are many factors that can lead to stomach pain. One of the most common causes is anxiety. It is not well understood why or how anxiety causes stomach pain, but it’s been suggested that it has something to do with the way the brain reacts to stress.
The symptoms of anxiety are often related to more than one system in the body, which might explain why stomach pain can be caused. For example, the nervous system and the gastrointestinal system are connected. When we’re stressed, our bodies release hormones that affect gut motility and digestion which can lead to stomach cramps and constipation or diarrhoea.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can manifest in many different ways. It is possible for them to show up as stomach aches, headaches, and tension in the jaw.
How can you manage your anxiety-related stomach pains?
The first thing that you need to do in case of stomach ache is figuring out if the issue is actually related to anxiety or not. There are many reasons for abdominal pain that may need medical attention, so ensure you’ve ruled out anything with your doctor first. If the pain does stem from anxiety, there are some things that you can do to relieve it and make the symptoms go away.
While it can be difficult for many people to identify when their pain is caused by anxiety as opposed to an underlying health condition, understanding this connection will make it easier for you to know what steps you should take in order to alleviate the physical symptoms of a nervous stomach!
What should you do if you have an acute attack of stomach pain related to anxiety?
If you are experiencing an acute attack of stomach pain related to anxiety, it is important to know how to deal with the issue. It’s possible that the stomach pain is a result of too much caffeine or something you’re thinking about that’s causing stress.
If you have an acute attack of stomach pain related to anxiety, you should try to relax. Take a few deep breaths and try to keep your body as still as possible. Lying down on the floor or on your bed would be best.
The symptoms of an acute attack of this type are likely caused by too much stress, and therefore it is important to maintain a relaxed atmosphere whenever possible.
You can also use breathwork to help alleviate a nervous stomach. Breathwork can activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (often nicknamed the ‘rest and digest’ system). This can bring your heart rate down, make you feel calmer, and improve your digestive function – which will then reduce the physical symptoms from the anxiety-related stomach pain.
Anxiety and Acute Stress Reaction
The anxiety and acute stress reaction can be triggered by a variety of stimuli. These reactions are caused by the release of adrenaline in the human body.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, but it becomes dangerous when it’s a chronic problem. It can lead to mental and physical health problems, such as high blood pressure or digestive issues. Anxiety is often the root cause of prolonged stress because it causes people to worry about events they cannot control or anticipate.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental health condition characterized by excessive, persistent anxiety and worry about a number of different things. Generalized Anxiety Disorder often causes physical symptoms that are linked to the emotional state of the person.
The following are some of the most common symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:
- A tendency to be excessively worried about everyday things, such as work or family events.
- Paying too much attention to minor details or making minor mistakes.
- Difficulty in concentrating on important tasks at work and at home.
- Feeling restless or agitated all day long.
Treatment for Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting 18% of the population. The most common treatment for anxiety disorders is cognitive-behavioural therapy, which can be used alone or in conjunction with medication.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats anxiety by changing a person’s thought patterns and behaviours. It has been shown to be effective at treating anxiety disorders. CBT becomes more effective when it is used in conjunction with lifestyle changes like exercise and improved sleep habits.
So, can anxiety cause stomach pain? Absolutely, but there are ways to combat this! For a short-term fix, try something like meditation or breath work to reduce the immediate symptoms.
In the long-term, therapy such as CBT may be helpful for you too.
You may also want to discuss any long-term gut health issues with our nutritional therapy expert Anna. She offers free discovery calls which you can book in here.