Written on December 22, 2023 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Stress can impact you emotionally and physically. There are many ways your body gives you the heads up that your stress levels are reaching high alert levels. Whether you listen to your body’s physical signs and symptoms of stress is up to you. Stress is a normal, healthy response to change in your environment, but too much stress is not always good for your health.
Growing research indicates that stress is harmful to our health. Our body sends us many symptoms and signs when we let stress levels build, including nausea, headaches, high blood pressure, and exhaustion. Everlywell wants to help you better understand the connection between physical symptoms like nausea and stress levels. Learning about stress, nausea, and their relationship to your overall health and well-being could get you closer to a healthier you.
Nausea is a queasy or uneasy stomach with or without the feeling of vomiting.[2,3] Nausea can happen before vomiting. There are many different causes of nausea, including stress. Treatments for nausea depend on its cause.
Stress can make you sick, literally, in the case of stress nausea and vomiting. Your stress response, also called the flight-fight-or-freeze reaction, begins in your brain. When you’re stressed, your body releases a flood of hormones, namely epinephrine. The hormones trigger changes in your body designed to prepare you for any possible threat, whether that threat is real or only something you perceive.
You may be wondering, can stress cause nausea? Yes, it can because of the close connection between your body’s stress response, your brain-gut communication system, and your gut microbiome. Stress disrupts the normal balance of the brain-gut connection and your microbiome. This disruption can cause nausea and other physical gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as [4,5]:
Your gut (stomach and intestines) have hundreds of millions of neurons (nerve cells) that constantly communicate with your brain. Stress, via these neurons, changes the way your stomach and intestines (collectively called your gut) work by :
Your gut is also home to millions of bacteria that make up your gut microbiome. Changes caused by the fight-or-flight response and chronic stress can also alter these bacteria, their impact on your moods, and how your gastrointestinal system functions.
Beyond disrupting your gut microbiome, stress can drive people to eat in order to feel better — overeating or eating the wrong foods to cope with stress can cause nausea. Stress can either increase or decrease hunger.
Stress can impact specific parts of your digestive tract that can cause you to feel nauseous as well. For example, your esophagus, the tube carrying food from your mouth to your stomach, can spasm in response to stress or become sensitized from increased heartburn pain. When you are experiencing stress, your ability to tolerate pain and discomfort decreases. Therefore, stress can intensify your experience of nausea and any bloating, pain, gas, or discomfort in your stomach or intestines.
Figuring out what might be causing your unsettled stomach can be tricky and time-consuming because there are many causes of nausea, ranging from mild to severe. Some of the most common causes of nausea other than stress are :
Stress is more likely to cause nausea in people who also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions.
As tempting as it might be just to write off stress as the cause of your nausea, there are other more serious medical conditions responsible for persistent or severe nausea that you should rule out first. Some of these diseases and disorders include :
Talking about all of your symptoms with a healthcare provider can help you better understand whether stress is causing your nausea or if there might be an underlying medical disease. It is a good idea to seek medical attention for your nausea if :
Knowing common symptoms of stress, such as nausea, can help you manage your stress levels before they begin to harm your health. Before stressing about your stress, you can easily rule out some medical causes of your symptoms.
Checking in with a healthcare provider when you are not feeling your best is always a good idea. If your busy schedule or the medical system makes an in-person appointment challenging, Everlywell offers you at-home tests like the Women’s Health Test so that you can take action with tests to ease your worries. Everlywell also offers fast, easy virtual telehealth consultations with nurse practitioners for many common health concerns.
Other ways to help lower your stress levels include [1,2,4]:
Everlywell understands that life is stressful. That is why we are working hard to make staying healthy easier and less stressful. Start taking better care of yourself today with Everlywell’s help.