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The Unexpected Symptom I Finally Realized Was Related To My Anxiety

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I spent the latter hours of Thanksgiving crouched over a toilet, willing myself to feel well again. I was angry, I was frustrated with myself and I didn’t understand why violent nausea ruined my favorite holiday.

It wasn’t the first time nausea had destroyed my day (and my appetite), but I never thought that my anxiety was causing me to feel so sick.

When my nausea set in full-force a few months prior, I constantly worried that my GI system wasn’t functioning properly or my eating disorder had found a new way to haunt me. Even my doctors encouraged me to consider physiological conditions, like gastroparesis, as an explanation for my nausea, rather than assuming my tendency to vomit was “all in my head.”

But I’ve spent months trying to connect the dots, and every time I feel a painful wave of nausea, it’s clear my anxiety is the culprit.

Social anxiety at an all-time high when I grab dinner with friends? Nausea.

Sensory overload when everyone’s in the living room at once? Nausea.

Anticipating an extra-personal session with my therapist? You guessed it — nausea!

Upon discovering there is nothing physiologically “off” with my stomach, I felt relieved. Although my nausea tends to arrive suddenly, without warning, this seemed fixable. The same coping skills I use to manage my anxiety should also mitigate my nausea, right?

Unfortunately though, managing the nausea that’s arisen out of my anxiety is far less simple than I assumed. My anxiety-provoked nausea dovetails with my eating disorder to such an extent that when my stomach feels at its worst, I skip meals my body desperately needs because I just can’t eat anything more substantial than a few saltines.

I can cope with the racing heart and sweaty palms. I can live through the hot flashes and moments of panic. I can survive the pervasive fear and the social isolation. But I still can’t fully wrap my head around the fact that the least expected symptom of my anxiety affects my life the most.

The good news is that as I’ve consciously worked to improve my mental health, my feelings of nausea have become less frequent. I’m beginning to show up differently in situations that previously triggered a gravely upset stomach, not just mentally but also physically. And although I worry that my bouts of nausea and vomiting are too sporadic to fully manage, as my anxiety has decreased, my moments of nausea have decreased as well.

I may not fully have the latest symptom of my anxiety under control, but I finally have hope that maybe I won’t spend next Thanksgiving hovering over a toilet bowl, trying to contain my anxiety and willing myself not to vomit. I don’t know how long I’ll live with this disruptive anxiety symptom, but at last, I feel like I’m on my way to freedom from my “anxiety nausea.”

Getty image by MangoStar_Studio

Originally published: May 21, 2020
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