While anxiety-related nausea is fairly common, vomiting usually occurs only with extreme anxiety.
The mind and the gut are closely linked — so if you’ve ever found your mind racing while feeling on the verge of throwing up, you’re not alone.
Research suggests a strong connection between gut health and mental health, which means that nausea or vomiting can be linked to anxiety or depressive symptoms.
Anxiety and stomach upsets don’t have to be permanent fixtures in your life. Understanding the link and possible solutions might help you soothe both your mind and gut.
Short answer: yes. But typically, vomiting only occurs in cases of extreme anxiety.
“Nausea, which precedes vomiting, is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety,” says Wendi Koslowski, LPC, clinical manager at Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center.
“When someone has anxiety, signals are sent throughout the body (including to the stomach) related to the fight or flight response,” Koslowski explains. “These signals are a normal, automatic, biological process to prepare the body to face a crisis… and alter the way the stomach and gut process and digest food, causing nausea.”
An older 2009 study of many people with gut issues found that 41% of people who experienced nausea also had an anxiety disorder.
It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need to be in a life threatening situation to get nauseous. Think of that queasy feeling you can get before taking a test or public speaking.
In some cases, when anxiety is extreme or you have a panic attack, nausea can become so intense that you vomit or dry heave.
“Vomiting is much less common than nausea,” says Koslowski. “It’s not a rare symptom of anxiety, but not a common one either.”
It’s also possible that anxiety more easily triggers nausea and vomiting in people with an existing gastrointestinal (GI) condition, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or chronic upset stomach.
Vomiting can relieve anxiety, but not necessarily. According to Koslowski, what’s actually providing relief is a sense of control over your automatic body responses.
“Having a tangible outcome of vomit can also be incredibly validating when others around you, or yourself, minimize the experience of anxiety,” explains Koslowski. “The experience of vomiting can make your internal experience feel ‘real.'”
Koslowski explained how validation and connecting with others decrease distress and provide relief in and out of crises.
“Many supportive people in our lives know how to help when we are sick, but that’s not always the case when our illness is not externalized,” says Koslowski.
Having an outward, physical outcome of anxiety makes it obvious we’re in distress, which might cause people around us to be more supportive. That additional community support can decrease anxiety.
“Occasional vomiting is not believed to be dangerous,” starts Koslowski, “but if this occurs more frequently, especially over long periods, it can become dangerous.”
Physical risks from frequent anxiety-related purging include:
- vitamin deficiencies
- damage to the esophagus and tooth enamel
- exacerbated anxiety
- cyclic vomiting syndrome
“Regular vomiting from anxiety can cause further anxiety and fear, and then this fear may increase the frequency of anxiety attacks,” explains Koslowski. “This feedback loop can be hard to stop once activated.”
If your fight, flight, or freeze response is activated, think about taking a few deep breaths. There are fast-acting and long-term options to help you stop throwing up from anxiety.
In the short term:
- Try to move daily (e.g., taking a walk, stretching, belly breaths).
- Manage what you eat (e.g., bland, non-fried foods until nausea has passed).
- Soothe your stomach withpeppermint or chamomile tea.
- Consider prescriptions and over-the-counter medications to reduce nausea.
- Distract yourself for a few minutes by listening to your favorite song, counting backward from 100, or talking with a friend.
- Tap into deep breathing or meditation to calm your anxiety.
For long-term relief, the best way to stop vomiting from anxiety is to address your anxiety head-on. To do that, you may want to consider speaking to a mental health professionalabout your experience.
“The good news is that there are many evidence-based treatment interventions for anxiety,” offers Koslowski. This includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP).
There are several ways to manage your anxiety, which means that even if some don’t feel right for you, there’s a good chance you’ll find a few that do. Some ideas include:
- breathing exercises
- practicing mindfulness
- anxiety-related journaling
- eating an anxiety-friendly diet
- moving your body regularly
- noticing and addressing cognitive distortions
- working with a therapist
- CBT exercises
It’s common for people with anxiety to be hard on themselves when symptoms arise. Instead, try showing yourself compassion and meeting your anxiety with curiosity rather than judgment.
If you sometimes feel simultaneously nauseous and anxious, know that solutions are available so that the feeling doesn’t return (or at least goes away more quickly). Even in moments of crisis, there are steps you can take to feel calmer.
As a starting point, consider monitoring your experience with vomiting and anxiety, and try a few tools mentioned above to see which ones help you find relief.
While short-term solutions are helpful in the moment, lessening anxiety-induced vomiting long-term requires getting to the bottom of your anxiety.
Remember, there are always professionals out there who are ready and willing to help you regain control and find peace in your mind and body.