February 17, 2022/Digestive

Stress Nausea: Why It Happens and How To Deal

Plus, ways to prevent it next time

person kneeling with their head in a toilet

Have you ever been so stressed that you felt nauseated or even threw up? Turns out, stress-induced nausea is a real thing.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

The physical impacts of stress are real. But family medicine specialist Timothy Tramontana, MD, MS, says there are effective ways of dealing with stress nausea and even avoiding it.

Can stress cause nausea and vomiting?

When you’re under stress, your body releases a flood of hormones to prepare you to face or flee from a perceived threat. These hormones light the fuse that sets off your fight-or-flight response.

Being in this survival mode affects all of your body’s systems, including your digestive system.

“Your anxious feelings can translate into a whole range of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, including stress nausea, abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits and even stress vomiting,” Dr. Tramontana explains.

But not everyone experiences stress nausea and stress vomiting. Dr. Tramontana says certain underlying health conditions can make you more prone to it, including:

  • GI conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

How to prevent nausea from stress

The good news is that you’re not doomed to a life of stress nausea.

Dr. Tramontana says your first line of defense should be an ounce of prevention. He recommends three habits to help you avoid stress levels that can lead to nausea:

  1. Exercise: Moving increases feel-good hormones, boosts mood and can protect your body from the harmful effects of stress. If you’re not currently physically active, gradually build up to 30 minutes of moderate activity (think: swimming, brisk walking, dancing or gardening) at least five days a week.
  2. Meditation: Start with 10 minutes of daily guided meditation, using online guidance or taking a formal class to master the basics. Eventually, increase your meditation time to about 20 minutes a day.
  3. Healthy diet: Try eating frequent, smaller meals instead of three large meals. “Larger amounts of food may make you more prone to underlying nausea. When you’re under stress, your nausea may get worse,” Dr. Tramontana says.

Relieve stress nausea with peppermint

We know, we know, reducing stress is often easier said than done. When life throws the kitchen sink at you, here’s how to deal with stress nausea as it’s happening: Find some peppermint.

Studies show peppermint can help reduce mild nausea. Dr. Tramontana suggests sipping on peppermint tea, which is known to settle the stomach, or using peppermint oil.

If you’re using peppermint oil topically, just be sure to dilute it first. And bear in mind that peppermint can be poisonous to some pets, including cats, so don’t use it in a diffuser if you have furry friends at home.


When to see your doctor about stress and nausea

If stress nausea starts becoming a regular issue for you, Dr. Tramontana recommends talking to your healthcare provider about it. They may be able to write you a prescription for a medication that can help with nausea, and they’ll want to rule out any other health concerns.

“If you have a couple of stress-induced nausea episodes that pass when the stress goes away, then we’ve probably identified the trigger,” Dr. Tramontana says, “but if it continues, then your doctor can work with you to figure out the cause.”

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person in bed at night without covers, with fan blowing on them
April 17, 2024/Sleep
9 Reasons Why You’re Sweating in Your Sleep — And How To Get Relief

Getting to the root cause of night sweats — like menopause, medication side effects, stress or anxiety — can help you manage them

Person relaxing on couch at home, reading on a tablet
April 5, 2024/Mental Health
5 Surefire Ways To Help You Relax Right Now

Enter relaxation mode by managing your breathing, releasing muscle tension and practicing mindfulness

Person doing yoga outside, with oversized smartphone turned off in backround
March 15, 2024/Mental Health
When (and How) To Take a Social Media Break

Identify your triggers, set ground rules for your break and start practicing mindfulness

healthcare provider writing in notes, with glucometer, blood droplet, medicine and approved foods floating near
How Stress and Depression Affect Diabetes

A diabetes diagnosis, new or long-standing, can trigger reactions like grief, stress, depression and frustration, but symptom relief and help are available

Child using smartphone and with social media and texts bubbles around him
January 15, 2024/Children's Health
How Social Media Can Negatively Affect Your Child

Too much screen time and unrealistic expectations and perceptions and can lead to an increased risk of anxiety and depression

happy female in yellow coat walking in woods
January 8, 2024/Wellness
Tips to Reduce Cortisol Levels and Dial Down Stress

Certain activities, foods and supplements can help calm your body

female lying on yoga mat stretching
January 3, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
How Restorative Yoga Can Nurture Your Mind, Body and Spirit

This mindful practice is designed to give you mental and physical relaxation

person in wheelchair lifting weights in gym
December 26, 2023/Heart Health
7 New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Heart Health

Resolve to move a little more, drink a little less, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and destress a lot

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey