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Why your phantom stomachaches could be due to anxiety


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Photo: Stocksy/CACTUS Blai Baules

Dealing with a stomachache that seems to come out of nowhere can be super frustrating. Was it something you ate? Did the barista mess up your coffee order? If you’ve gone through the list of possibilities one too many times to no avail, the culprit might actually be anxiety.

While some people’s symptoms of anxiety skew more toward the mental-health side, others have more of a physical response. Mark Pollack, MD, told The Cut that can mean everything from chest pain and gastrointestinal issues to dizziness and shortness of breath. So that annoying queasiness that sometimes manifests in your gut? It could be a telltale sign of the disorder.

When you eat, the stomach typically relaxes to accommodate the incoming food. But when you have anxiety, the stomach doesn’t relax, which can cause aches and pains.

According to Lukas Van Oudenhove, MD, PhD, anxiety can mess with your belly’s regularly scheduled programming. “Normally when you start eating, the proximal stomach is going to relax so the stomach can act as a reservoir to accommodate all the incoming food.” But when you have anxiety, the stomach doesn’t relax, which can cause aches and pains.

Additionally, anxiety and pain are pretty circuitous: The author of the story points out if you’re anxious, that anxiety can make your stomach hurt—and then you can also experience anxiety about your stomach hurting in general. It’s basically a stressful, never-ending cycle.

“There’s a very close connection between psychological and physical symptoms,” Dr. Van Oudenhove said. “It becomes very unclear what is the chicken or the egg. And there is probably no chicken or egg—they’re probably just reinforcing each other.”

If you think your stomachaches—or any body pain for that matter—could be due to anxiety, consider seeing your doc to find the root cause. And keep in mind that anxiety is a physical and mental issue.

Nourish your body with healthy foods, try doing a daily meditation to calm your nerves, and practice self-care. There’s no one-stop shop for treating anxiety—to beat it, you have to mindfully focus on the whole package.

This one simple diet change might lessen your anxiety. And here’s everything you need to know about anxiety and gut health.