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.

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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:

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  • 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.

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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.”

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