Stress and Your Body
Stress causes a series of physiological changes as the body reacts to stimuli and attempts to prepare itself for danger. While this biological response was well-suited for our ancestors who needed the "fight or flight" activity to deal with many of life's problems, today these changes can have detrimental affects on our physical well-being as there is generally no outlet for expression. Blood pressure rises, hormones are released and the digestive system slows all so we can give a speech in public, deal with troubling financial issues and navigate through evening traffic.
This leads to short-term physical manifestations, such as nausea, sweating and upset stomach, as well as long-term consequences if stress is an everyday problem. For those who have a strong reaction to feeling nervous, excited, tense, angry and anxious, feeling nauseous may be a regular problem. What causes stress induced nausea? How can it be controlled? Are there any long-term negative effects?
Why Nausea Can Occur
Emotional disturbances cause gastrointestinal disturbances leading to nausea, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. Why does stress affect the digestive system? One reason is that the digestive tract is connected to the nervous system. When nerves are "rattled," the gastrointestinal tract becomes tense as well. Another factor behind nausea due to stress is the endocrine system's response; there is an increased release of stress hormones. As a result energy is rapidly produced from the quickened metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates and amino acids and minerals are excreted or released. When the nervous system is relaxed and the endocrine system is not causing an imbalance, the digestive system can work efficiently.
Controlling the Nausea
What can be done to prevent nausea and other gastrointestinal disturbances due to stress? When a stressful situation comes on, such as an argument, trouble at work or difficult news, try doing the following to calm your body:
- Practice breathing exercises, an easy technique is to inhale for a count of four, hold the inhalation for a count of four and then exhale.
- Go for a walk. This will help to release the stress and tension.
- Use calming essential oils. Keep a cotton cloth in your pocket or purse with two drops of rose, lavender, clary sage or sandalwood essential oil for a calming effect. Mandarin, lemongrass and bergamot are uplifting.
- Control your mind. Try picturing yourself in a peaceful setting, have a vision in mind that you can use when you face stress. You can
also choose an encouraging or calming phrase to repeat to yourself silently so you can focus on turning your mood around.
- Try herbal teas that will calm both the nerves and the digestive system, such as peppermint, oat straw and chamomile
These techniques can be used when dealing with stress and may even be helpful for quelling the nausea. What is more important is addressing your state of mind and figuring out what is causing the emotional disturbances. If left unaddressed, chronic stress can lead to many more serious health problems. Things you can do to reduce stress in your life and to increase your ability to remain calm in stressful situations include:
- Meditation — set aside ten to twenty minutes a day to meditate
- Eat a healthy diet focusing on fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes while eating less sugary, salty and fatty foods
- Exercise daily — a twenty to thirty minute walk five days a week can really improve your mental state
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep
- Talk to someone, either a close friend or family member, a therapist or even a stranger with the time to listen
Stress induced nausea in itself is not dangerous, but if it happens regularly it may be a signal that you have too much stress in your life and are not capable of dealing with it. This can easily lead to more serious health problems, affecting the gastrointestinal tract, circulatory health and immune health. Chronic stress can lead to stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, a greater risk for heart disease and greater susceptibility to infections and disease. In the short-term it can cause acne, weight gain, constipation and fatigue.
Fries, Wendy C. "Anxiety, Stress and Stomachaches." WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/anxiety-stress-and-stomachaches
Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).
photo by Esad Hajdarevic