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Can Anxiety Cause Stomach Pain?

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/25/2022

A lot of people deal with anxiety. In fact, it’s believed that 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. And it presents in different ways — both physically and mentally. We all know about the fidgeting restlessness that comes with anxiety, but what about other issues? Namely, stomach issues. Can anxiety cause stomach pain?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes. But how does anxiety cause stomach pain? And what does anxiety-related stomach pain mean for your body? Should you be worried that stomach pain is part of a bigger health issue?

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s start at the beginning. 

Anxiety and Stomach Issues

There are many common symptoms when it comes to anxiety — and experiencing them can certainly impact your quality of life. Symptoms of anxiety include an increased heart rate, fatigue, irritability and trouble sleeping.

And yes, anxiety can even cause stomach issues. 

If you think about it, you’ve probably noticed a clear connection before. Think about the butterflies you feel before giving a presentation or how your stomach feels like it’s in knots while arguing with a partner. 

There’s actually a biological reason for this — it’s commonly referred to as the gut-brain connection. Your brain can directly affect your stomach and your digestive tract. So, if your stress levels sky rocket, it may manifest as abdominal pain.

Why Does Anxiety Cause Stomach Pain? 

Now that you understand that anxiety can indeed lead to abdominal pain or digestive tract issues, let’s talk about why this happens.

As mentioned before, there’s a gut-brain connection at play here. That connection is through your central nervous system. 

More specifically, something called the enteric nervous system (which is a branch of the central nervous system) connects your gastrointestinal tract to your brain. 

When you get stressed out, your brain may release certain hormones and neurotransmitters that can impact your stomach and cause pain and discomfort. 

Not only that, but anxiety and stress can impact the balance of bacteria in your stomach, leading to further pain. 

So, what kind of belly pain is most commonly associated with anxiety? Things you may notice include:

  • Constipation

  • Indigestion

  • Peptic ulcers

  • Constipation

  • Loss of appetite or unusual hunger

  • Cramps

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

You may also develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This condition is considered to be a grouping of symptoms (many of which are listed above) that can lead to gas, pain and cramps.

Unfortunately, anxiety-induced stomach pain can also be a bit of a cyclical thing. Once you experience the pain, the pain can cause even more anxiety — which, in turn, can impact your quality of life even further.

Another way that anxiety can cause stomach problems is through diet. 

When some people get anxious, they may change the way they eat. Some people eat more or eat less healthy things as a way of soothing themselves, while others may eat less. 

Others may choose to guzzle coffee, smoke or drink alcohol. All of these things can lead to stomach pain or issues.

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How to Cope With An Anxious Stomach

You’ll want to consult with a healthcare professional on the best way to treat your anxious stomach. 

Most likely, they’ll want you to address your anxiety. If you don’t address the root issue, you probably won’t be able to get your gastrointestinal symptoms to go away for good.

When it comes to addressing anxiety, there are a number of things you can try, including:

Therapy

Talk therapy is a common way many people keep their anxiety under control. More specifically, many people engage in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

In CBT, you work with a mental health professional to call out behaviors and patterns that add to your anxiety. From there, you figure out ways to make changes.

Hers offers online therapy, which can be a convenient way of fitting sessions into your busy schedule. 

Medication 

Anti-anxiety medication is another option. Often, a healthcare professional will recommend a combination of therapy and medication

There are a variety of medications prescribed for anxiety, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), beta-blockers and benzodiazepines.

Common SSRIs used in the treatment of anxiety include sertraline, fluoxetine and citalopram.

Exercise

Physical activity can be a great way to lower stress. This is because when you work out, your body releases endorphins that can make you feel good.

In terms of how much exercise you should be getting, the National Library of Medicine recommends for adults 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise in a week or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise.

Meditation

Another option to ease anxiety? Meditation. 

Mindful meditation is all about attention and acceptance. The idea is that you stay focused on the present moment but think about how your body feels or other things you notice. 

Then, if outside thoughts pop into your head (like your work to-do list or what’s for dinner), you accept them and let them go until you are done. 

There’s some evidence supporting meditation for anxiety, too. One small 15-person study from 2014 found that 20 minutes of mindful meditation may lower anxiety. It is thought that this is because meditation reduces brain activity temporarily. 

An easy way to incorporate meditation into your daily routine is by downloading an app that offers guided meditations.

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Anxiety and Stomach Pain: The Bottom Line

Maybe you deal with generalized anxiety disorder, another anxiety disorder or just have general symptoms of stress in your life. 

Whatever the case, there are many side effects you may experience. Some people notice physical symptoms pop up and find that their anxiety or stress response can lead to abdominal pain or an upset stomach. 

See, there’s a clear connection between your gut and your brain (this is sometimes called the gut-brain connection or gut-brain axis). This means that in stressful situations, as your anxiety levels rise, you may notice stomach issues or pain. 

To get rid of this discomfort, you’ll need to deal with feelings of anxiety. Therapy, medication and lifestyle tweaks can help alleviate anxiety symptoms and, therefore, help to mitigate stomach upset. 

If you have noticed that your anxiety induces negative gastrointestinal conditions, it’s a good idea to schedule a consultation with a healthcare provider for help. 

12 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Facts and Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
  2. Symptoms, Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/symptoms
  3. The Gut-Brain Connection. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
  4. Stress and Stomach Pain: When Should You See a Specialist? U Chicago Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/gastrointestinal-articles/stress-and-stomach-pain-when-should-you-see-a-specialist
  5. How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Gut-Brain Connection. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-calm-anxious-stomach-brain-gut-connection
  6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4342-irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs
  7. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  8. Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/
  9. SSRIs and Benzodiazepines For Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/ssris-and-benzodiazepines-general-anxiety
  10. How Much Exercise Do I Need? Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/howmuchexercisedoineed.html
  11. Zeidan, F., Martucci, K., Kraft, R., et al. (2013, May 21). Neural correlates of mindfulness meditation-related anxiety relief. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 751-759. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/9/6/751/1664700
  12. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress (2019). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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