April 26, 2024

Can Anxiety Cause Bloating?

Woman with both hands on her belly

If you’ve ever been stressed and simultaneously noticed discomfort in your belly, you may have wondered, “Can anxiety cause bloating?” The short answer is yes, it can.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and digestive issues like bloating.

Anxiety, Bloating, and the Gut-Brain Axis

Stomach issues caused by anxiety are often referred to collectively as nervous stomach or anxiety stomach.

They can include:

  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Cramping
  • Pain
  • “Butterfly” sensations
  • Changes in bowel habits

These symptoms result from nerve signals carried by the gut-brain axis, a communication pathway between the brain and digestive system. The nerves making up this connection play critical roles in activating, deactivating, and monitoring digestive activity.

When you experience anxiety, the brain may initiate the “fight or flight response.” That system was developed to help us protect ourselves from imminent physical threats, like encountering a predator. However, modern stresses, like being overwhelmed by work or home responsibilities, can elicit the same response. When they do, several changes occur.

For example, your body may release a stress hormone called cortisol. It can alter your metabolism to make energy available for addressing the “threat.” The response also shifts blood flow to the major muscle groups (so they’re ready to enable our fighting or fleeing) and away from the digestive system.

This can cause our gut to “stall” temporarily, affecting the movement of its contents, allowing bacterial imbalances to develop, and causing other issues that lead to the bloating or pain you feel in your stomach.

Anxiety can also affect our food preferences, often causing us to eat more carbohydrates, creating or worsening gut microbial imbalances. What’s more, feeling bloated and uncomfortable can increase our stress and anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.

Fortunately, understanding what’s happening between your brain and gut empowers you to take actions that reduce or eliminate your anxiety stomach symptoms.

How to Treat Anxiety-Related Bloating

Treating anxiety-related bloating and other digestive problems requires a two-pronged approach. The first is to address your anxiety. Several practices and treatments can help lower your stress level and reduce anxiety symptoms, including:

  • Meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, journaling, visualization, etc. Many people find they can reduce their anxiety by consistently using meditation, prayer, and other practices to focus on something other than the conditions they perceive as stressful. Resources your doctor provides, or you find online, can explain these practices.
  • Therapy. Sessions with a behavioral health expert can help you identify your stressors and develop ways to counteract or manage them.
  • Medication. People with an anxiety disorder can benefit from prescription medication.

The other aspect of treating bloating caused by anxiety is addressing the digestive symptoms themselves. Two ways to do that are:

  • Dietary changes. Food and beverages affect people differently. Consequently, paying attention to things you eat and drink and whether they cause bloating or other digestive issues is vital. If you identify anything problematic, removing it from your diet (especially when you’re stressed) can help prevent symptoms.
  • Natural remedies. Some people get relief from digestive issues by consuming ginger in teas, as a supplement, or in other ways. Smelling or consuming peppermint in various forms may also provide relief. These are just a few examples of how to settle a nervous stomach. Your doctor may have other suggestions.

Talk with Your Baptist Health Doctor About Anxiety and Bloating

Anxiety and digestive problems are conditions nobody wants to experience. The good news is both are treatable.

If you experience anxiety-related bloating, nausea, or other symptoms, talk with your Baptist Health primary care physician. They can help you get relief.

Use our online provider directory to find a behavioral health specialist if you don’t have one.

Learn More.