Stress and anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions that people suffer from. They may trigger certain physical reactions in an individual. This article states the meaning and causes of stress vomiting and provides a comprehensive guide on how to stop stress vomiting. Stress Management techniques are also included.
1. What Is Stress Vomiting?
Stress vomiting, also referred to as stress-induced vomiting, is a person’s physiological response to heightened stress or anxiety. It is a form of functional gastrointestinal disorder and is less common compared to other symptoms related to stress and anxiety. Headaches, muscle tension and sleep disturbances, including insomnia, are some of the most common stress-related symptoms.
The exact mechanism behind stress vomiting is not clear but it is believed that severe stress can affect the gastrointestinal system and cause nausea, vomiting, and digestive discomfort.
2. Stress Response In Our Body
To understand stress vomiting and anxiety nausea better, it is important to look at how our body responds to stress.
When an individual is faced with a perceived stressor, the body undergoes a cascade of biological changes. Two distinct systems are involved in the body’s stress response process.
2.1. The Sympathetic-Adrenomedullary (SAM) System
The Sympathetic-Adrenomedullary System or the SAM System is designed to mobilize resources and prepare for a fight or flight response.
The process of stress response begins in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which in turn causes the inner pores of the adrenaline gland to secrete adrenaline and noradrenaline. Adrenaline and Noradrenaline are also known as Epinephrine and Norepinephrine respectively.
These hormones start circulating in the blood and cause an increase in one’s heart rate. Adrenaline and Noradrenaline also get the body to metabolize glucose more rapidly.
2.2. The Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) System
Besides stimulating the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), the hypothalamus releases the corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone circulates through the blood and stimulates the pituitary gland, which then secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH).
The adrenocorticotropic hormone induces the adrenal cortex to produce stress hormones called glucocorticoids. In humans, the glucocorticoid produced is known as Cortisol.
2.3. Effect of Cortisol In Our Body
Cortisol generally has a positive effect on people in an emergency as it prepares the body for a fight or flight response and inhibits the innate immune response. But there is a negative side to it if the cortisone response cannot be shut off. Excessive secretion of cortisol will cause it to damage brain cells, especially in the hippocampus.
3. Stress Vomiting & Anxiety Nausea
Stress Vomiting and Anxiety Nausea are related but not exactly the same. Though they both involve interaction between feelings and physical reactions.
Stress vomiting is characterized by the specific act of vomiting which may or may not be present in Anxiety Nausea. In the case of stress vomiting, the vomiting is itself the physical manifestation of the body’s response to stress.
Anxiety nausea, on the other hand, refers to the sensation of feeling nauseated when the person in under severe stress or anxiety. Anxiety Nausea may or may not cause a person to vomit.
Both Stress Vomiting and Anxiety Nausea make the person feel distressed and comfortable. Also, both of these conditions may be triggered by similar stressors and/or situations that provoke anxiety.
4. What Causes Stress Vomiting?
A variety of factors related to the body’s physiological response to stress can cause stress vomiting in people.
Here are a few potential causes of stress vomiting:
4.1. Activation of the Fight or Flight Response
The fight or flight response is a physiological reaction of an individual to any perceived threat or danger. During the fight or flight response, hormones including adrenaline and noradrenaline are released into our bloodstream; these hormones increase one’s heart rate, redirect blood flow to vital organs and suppress secondary functions like digestion for the time being.
This causes blood to flow away from the digestive system, resulting in digestive problems, including nausea and vomiting.
4.2. Gastrointestinal Sensitivity
Some people have a heightened sensitivity in the gastrointestinal tract, making them more prone to vomiting when under a stressful situation.
People with gastrointestinal disorders such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are more likely to experience stress vomiting and anxiety nausea.
4.2.1. Stress Affecting Gastrointestinal Sensitivity
Stress, whether acute or chronic, directly affects the gastrointestinal tract. Severe stress will influence gastrointestinal motility, secretion of digestive juices as well as the sensitivity in nerve endings in the gut. This will lead to changes in the patient’s bowel habits and cause increased sensitivity to pain as well as digestive discomfort.
If the person has existing gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, functional dyspepsia, or IBD, stress will intensify the existing symptoms and cause increased discomfort.
4.2.2. Gastrointestinal Sensitivity Contributing to Stress
People suffering from gastrointestinal sensitivity are more prone to experience symptoms related to stress. As the GI tract is already sensitive, stressors may lead to physical discomfort, bloating, nausea, and vomiting.
Frequent as well as severe symptoms related to gastrointestinal insensitivity may cause stress and anxiety regarding future symptom episodes. This may lead to intensified symptoms of gastrointestinal sensitivity in the future.
4.2.3. Gut-Brain Axis
There is a strong connection between the gut and the brain. This is known as the gut-brain axis. Interaction between the two occurs through neural, hormonal and immunological pathways.
4.3. Anxiety & Emotional Distress
When people suffer from intense anxiety or emotional distress, a series of physical reactions are triggered, which include nausea and vomiting. Anxiety can also trigger gastrointestinal sensitivity that disrupts the digestive process, making the person more likely to experience anxiety nausea, or stress vomiting.
4.4. Effect of Stress Hormones
Stress hormones released during the fight or flight response affect the digestive system. The functioning of the digestive system is slowed down to a great extent which can lead to digestive disturbances, nausea, and vomiting.
4.5. Stress-Induced Muscle Tension
Severe stress can cause muscle tension in various parts of the body, including the stomach and abdominal region. This can cause stomach and gastrointestinal issues that can trigger nausea and may cause the person to throw up.
4.6. Food Sensitivities or Intolerances
When a person is under stress, the underlying food sensitivities or intolerances of the individual may intensify for the time being. This, again, will lead to gastrointestinal problems, making the person feel nauseated, causing diarrhoea, and vomiting.
4.7. Motion Sickness
If the individual has motion sickness, the stress associated it with may make the situation worse. This makes the person more susceptible to stress vomiting.
4.8. Pregnancy & Morning Sickness
Pregnancy often makes women more vulnerable to stress. As nausea and morning sickness are already common among pregnant women, stressful situations can aggravate the situation and cause stress vomiting.
4.9. Chemotherapy & Medical Treatments
People with terminal diseases like cancer, immune system disorders and bone marrow diseases often require strong medications and chemotherapy. The stress and anxiety associated with these acute conditions coupled with the side effects of medications and chemotherapy often experience stress vomiting.
5. How To Stop Stress Vomiting?
Besides using stress management techniques that have been discussed later in this article, here is a list of ways that you can use to stop stress vomiting.
5.1. Seeking Professional Help
In case you experience stress vomiting very frequently and severely, you must seek help from health professionals. A mental health professional can assist you with stress management and suggest effective coping skills to use when under severe stress.
5.2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT is widely recognized as an effective form of psychotherapy. It focuses on the connection between one’s thoughts, emotions, and behavior. This behavioral therapy allows you to collaborate with a trained therapist to detect and rectify negative thought processes or patterns that contribute to emotional distress and influence one’s behavior.
5.3. Daily Physical Activity
Exercising every day is essential to maintain overall mental well-being and is known to reduce stress and anxiety significantly. You could try various forms of physical exercise including swimming, walking, jogging, dancing, cycling, and yoga to keep yourself fit, healthy, and stress-free.
5.4. Leading A Healthy Lifestyle
Severe stress and stress-related symptoms can be easily avoided by leading a healthy lifestyle. It is important to prioritize a balanced diet and hydration. Adequate sleep is also necessary. Stay away from alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine as much as possible as these substances will exacerbate symptoms related to stress and could cause stress vomiting.
5.5. Reaching Out To Friends, Family Members, & Support Groups
Social support could be of great help to stop stress vomiting. Your loved ones can effectively help you out in this situation. Reaching out to family, friends, and support groups will help you alleviate stress and provide you with a sense of belonging.
5.6. Mindful Eating
When you sit to eat, focus on the act of eating itself. You should eat slowly, chew properly, and pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Mindful eating is a great way to reduce digestive discomfort and other physical manifestations of stress and anxiety.
5.7. Practising Relaxation Techniques
There are several relaxation techniques that you can use to manage and stop stress vomiting, and other stress-related symptoms. These include meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation, which have been discussed in detail under stress management techniques.
5.8. Avoiding Triggers
Try to stay away from things, people and/or situations that contribute to your stress. Avoiding triggers as much as possible will greatly reduce the frequency as well as the severity of your stress symptoms, thus preventing stress vomiting and anxiety nausea.
6. How To Manage Stress?
Here goes a list of some effective stress management techniques:
6.1. Deep Breathing
This is one of the most widely recognized and effective techniques that you can use to relieve stress. Breathe deeply through your nose, hold it for like 3-5 seconds, and slowly exhale through your mouth. Keep focussing on your breath throughout the process of deep breathing. Doing this once or twice on a regular basis will remarkably improve your ability to handle stress and you will feel less overwhelmed in stressful situations.
6.2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
The progressive muscle relaxation technique involves tensing and then gradually relaxing the muscles of all your body parts. This technique is often recommended by therapists as it releases one’s physical tension and relaxes the body and mind. You can practice PMR in any comfortable position. Choose a place where you will be undisturbed and practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation for 10-15 minutes for the best results.
6.3. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindful meditation will train you to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and stay calm even during extremely stressful situations. The steps to practice mindfulness meditation are as follows:
6.3.1. Sit In A Comfortable Position
Look for a quiet and comfortable space in your home and sit on a chair or on the floor. Keep your head, back and legs straight but make sure that your body parts are not stiff. Try to wear comfortable, loose clothing to avoid uneasiness and distraction.
6.3.2. Consider Using A Timer
You can use a soft, gentle alarm to help you assess the time. Though a timer is not a necessity, it can help you meditate better. You can forget about the time and focus solely on meditating.
6.3.3. Focus On Your Breathing
Stay aware of your breath throughout the process. Feel your belly rise and fall while you inhale and exhale. Be aware of the time interval between inhaling and exhaling and the temperature changes with it. Feel the air entering and leaving your nostrils each time you breathe in and out.
6.3.4. Notice Your Thoughts
Mindfulness Meditation does not aim at stopping thoughts but helps you get more comfortable with them. Witness your thoughts and stay calm. Think of these thoughts as clouds passing by and see them shift and change from time to time. Let your breathing be the anchor throughout the process.
6.3.5. Take A Break
It is best to not get too carried away by your thoughts. If you feel overwhelmed while witnessing your thoughts, get back to focusing on just your breathing. Being able to shift and adapt your focus according to situations is what people try to achieve with mindfulness meditation.
6.3.6. Download An App
Apps like Calm and Headspace are available to assist you with mindfulness meditation. In case you are facing problems or struggling with meditation, these apps will provide you with a variety of tools that will help you in being focused throughout the day.
6.4. Yoga & Stretching
Practicing yoga on a regular basis is also a great way to relieve stress. Yoga is known to lower the levels of stress hormones and makes people feel relaxed. Yoga and stretching will calm your mind and body and help you focus on your priorities.
Specific yoga poses for stress relief include Sukhasana, Setu Bandh Sarvangasana, Balasana, and Uttanasana, to mention a few.
6.5. Eating Healthy
A balanced diet is necessary to maintain good physical and mental health. Your diet should contain whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats in order to help your body manage stress. Caffeine, sugar are processed foods should be limited to maintain overall well-being.
6.6. Good Time Management
Create a schedule and organize your tasks according to priority. Put the urgent tasks in the beginning and decide which ones can wait. This will help in managing tasks and responsibilities relieve work-related stress, and prevent stress-related symptoms. Good time management, thus, is another way to effectively manage stress.
6.7. Consistent Social Support
It is always great to be in constant touch with your loved ones. Stay connected with your family and friends and make sure you open up to them about your problems. Spending time with people close to you will significantly reduce stress and provide you with a sense of belonging.
6.8. Taking A Break From Digital Devices
Limiting your screen time could also help you manage stress. Screens and digital devices cause information overload and sensory stimulation that cause significant stress in a person. Disconnecting from technology for some time will help you relax and recharge you for your upcoming challenges.
6.9. Engaging in Hobbies & Creative Activities
Get new hobbies that you would like to be engaged in; this will give you a productive way to release stress. Creative activities will not only distract you from stressful situations but also give you enough refreshment to start over. You could get involved in music, dance, and indoor games like chess, sports, etc. in order to keep stress away.
6.10. Nature & Fresh Air
It is important to spend some time outside daily. Go for regular morning walks, jogging, or simply sit in a park to enjoy the natural surroundings. This will calm your senses and you will feel very relaxed.
6.11. Laughing & Having Fun
Laughing keeps you mentally fit. It triggers the release of endorphins in your body and gives you a positive outlook on life, thereby reducing stress and its effects on you.
6.12. Limiting Stressors
Avoid people, places and situations that stress you out; this will ensure that you don’t face things which will definitely trigger stress and anxiety in you. Ways of limiting stressors involve setting boundaries, delegating tasks, and creating a proper routine for yourself.
6.13. Seeking Professional Help If Required
Do not hesitate to seek help from mental health professionals if you feel overwhelmed by stress and are unable to cope with it on your own. Seeking professional help is one of the best ways to manage stress. Talk to your therapist about what stresses you out. The health professional will then suggest personalized strategies and suggest healthy coping skills. Professional support makes recovery healthier and faster.
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