“If your stomach hurts, you might think the culprit is some misbehaving organ in your abdomen. That’s a definite possibility, but the offender could actually be your brain. Yup, just like chest pain, abdominal pain can be physical or mental.” (Self.com)
This is a very common symptom of anxiety. So why am I including it in a series about interesting, lesser known facts about anxiety?
Stomach aches could be anything. Something physical, like IBS, gas, constipation, or any other host of ailments. That is usually the first thing people think of when they are experiencing them on a regular basis. It goes undiagnosed way too often as a symptom of anxiety, or misdiagnosed as something else.
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Getting stomach aches is the fourth fact about anxiety that I wanted to talk about in this series. I am also going to talk about an increased need to urinate, since it is a similar sort of symptom. The series is based off of a post about anxiety that I wrote several months ago.
It affects millions with anxiety, and some with other mental illnesses as well.
I have been struggling with anxiety to some degree since grade school. I was teased a lot, and I also struggled with test phobia. It was an age where I was taking standardized tests in school, and for whatever reason those days filled me with dread.
Maybe it was a fear of failure. Maybe it was feeling claustrophobic at knowing we weren’t allowed to leave the classroom during the test. As I mentioned, I was teased a lot by my peers, and so everything slightly anxiety inducing about school was magnified more than normal.
I didn’t know at the time what I was experiencing was anxiety. I didn’t know it had a name. All I knew was that I constantly felt like I had to go to the bathroom at school, and my stomach hurt a lot. I would often go to the nurse and call my mom to come and get me.
It was a really hard time. Looking back I wish I had better tools for dealing with it, but you live and learn. Hopefully this post can help people identify what they’re struggling with, and can point them in the right direction.
How anxiety and stomach aches are linked
One article I read said, “…the majority of your body’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood, takes place in the digestive tract, Jacqueline Sperling, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of training and research the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, tells SELF. ‘When you’re experiencing something going on in your brain, it can communicate to the gut and vice versa,’ she says.”
Your mind and body are linked more than we thought possible in previous years. Every year, more research is emerging about this, and I hope it will help a lot of scared people get their anxiety diagnosed and treated.
In my long time experience, having an anxiety disorder can also affect your bladder. That is something I still struggle with to this day, especially on a long car trip. (Long for me, meaning over an hour.)
So, why is that? Why when you’re anxious do you often feel the need to go to the bathroom? Well, according to Medical News Today:
“Anxiety and stress can increase the need to urinate, and this reaction is more common in people with phobias. The need to urinate or a loss of control over urination may have an evolutionary basis, as it is easier to flee with an empty bladder. However, the link between anxiety and an increased urge to urinate remains unclear.”
If you get frequent stomach aches, and have an increased need for urination, try not to worry. Check with your primary care physician. They may be able to do some tests to rule out any underlying physical problems. And then, you can go from there.
How to spot it in a friend
Maybe you’re not the anxious one. Maybe your friend is suffering from anxiety. As I mentioned in my previous post about anxiety, it is incredibly common. 40 million adults live in the United States live with anxiety per year, so it is likely that your friend is one of them.
Here are some common signs that your stomach aches are physical according to Self:
- You ate food that could possibly have been bad
- You are burping or farting
- Swollen stomach and issues pooping or keeping food down
- You can pinpoint an exact source of pain
- Taking NSAIDs on an empty stomach
- The pain is intense and has other side effects such as bleeding, fever, or throwing up,
Here are a couple of signs it could be mental, according to the same article:
- The stomach aches bother you preceding stressful or anxiety inducing situations, like a big job interview or major surgery.
- The pain is accompanied by emotional feelings like panic.
If your friend has even one or more of these last two signs, they are possibly living with some form of stomach aches related to anxiety. Speaking from experience, these are awful feelings to live with, and they can be the reason that many anxious people find themselves isolating themselves when they’re unwell. They don’t want to be seen as a burden to their loved ones.
What you can do
I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. I’ve had people tell me it is all in my head. That all I had to do was stop feeling anxious. (Yes, people have actually said that. Let that sink in.)
And maybe it is, technically, all in my head. After all, anxiety is a disorder of the brain that subsequently affects other parts of your body. So, yes, your anxious symptoms do originate in your head. But as a wise man named Albus Dumbledore once said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
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Related Posts: Anxiety: What It Is and What You Can Do, 7 Interesting Facts About Anxiety, What to do when you’re overwhelmed, How to recognize the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety, How to manage your anxiety while traveling