4 signs that your stomach is being affected by stress

Sarah Hyland

Studying Health Sciences, Writer & Product Trainer

14 April 2020

What is that feeling in our stomach?

We are all familiar with butterflies in your tummy. Most of us associate it with childhood glee – a birthday party! Or, 'I'm getting a surprise!'

Then, there's that sinking feeling when something dreadful is about to happen. 'Wait till your Dad hears about this!' 'Report to the headmaster's office immediately!'

I am palpably regressing - all those past dramas!

As young children, the world was huge and unknown to us. We had no idea what to expect. This is why children and animals are so fun (and emotional). Every trip to the garden may unlock a portal into an unknown world. Every shadow could morph into a child or puppy-gobbling ogre. Their perception of the world amplifies their emotional response and their tummies are often in a roller coaster swoop. Every day offers a variety of new experiences and scary challenges.

Adult lives, by comparison, are not emotionally exciting or terrifying. In general, and in our daily lives, we muddle on. We don't expect our tummies or gut to be reacting to anything really, other than the food we put in, or the bugs we pick up. We ignore many of the messages coming from our body. Who can be bothered dealing with that mildly achy back and always-blocked left nostril?

What a waste! Our bodies have the most amazing and interesting superpower. It has been likened to a sixth sense and we should pay attention to it. It is the connection between our brain and our gut.

The vagus nerve links the brain and gut. It operates like a super-fast fibre optic connection. It can act like a sensory organ and send information to the brain in under 100 milliseconds1. This relationship and communication between the brain and our gut is called the brain-gut axis. You smell chocolate: your mouth fills with saliva. You get a fright: your stomach churns.

Anxiety and stress do impact the digestive system. Nerve cells in the gut then send a message back to the brain to say that something is wrong. It can be a vicious circle. Loops of mayday signals can go around and around the body. It can be hard to tell if stress is upsetting the tummy or the upset tummy is making you stress.

4 Signs that your stomach is affected by stress:

1. Hiccups

Because hiccups are funny, we don't often consider them a sign of stress. Our diaphragm2 is the muscle that starts off a fit of hiccupping. It's a large flat muscle that lies under the lungs and helps us breathe. When it pulls down, it opens the lungs, drawing breath in through our mouth and nose. A hiccup occurs when the brain sends a signal to the diaphragm to pull down forcefully. The sudden draw of air into the throat causes a change in pressure. The narrow part of the throat snaps shut and makes a 'hic' noise. Hiccups often happen if the stomach is too full of air, alcohol or food. Smoking or sudden changes in temperature that make you gasp can trigger them. Stressful events like public speaking can - Hic! - start you off. This may not improve your delivery!

The various cures for the hiccups involve 3 things:

  • Throat stimulation – a gargle or a drink of water, or try a suck of a lemon slice.
  • Distraction or a good fright - Boo!
  • Deep breathing to relax the diaphragm and throat muscles.

While hiccups are not serious, they can be annoying. Are you prone to hiccupping fits when you get tense or nervous? Try to relax before a conference call or presentation. Have a drink of water nearby. Breathe slowly and avoid gulps of air. Avoid eating too much food or fizzy drinks. A.Vogel's Stress Relief Daytime is useful when the nervous system needs calming quickly.

My Top Tip:

Just mix 10-20 drops with a little water, once or twice daily, to help relax your nervous system and reduce mild stress symptoms.

"This product really has helped to take the edge off my stress, enabling me to cope"

Read more customer reviews

2. Nausea and queasiness

When stressed the body tenses. This is a natural reaction to a threat. The hormone adrenalin floods the body shouting out orders. 'Muscles in the legs fire up!' 'Stomach and gut – shut down! When something scary happens, we want our leg muscles ready to run away. We don't need valuable energy going to our digestive system. This is an appropriate response to a burglar or a burning building. It may, however, be an overreaction to a telephone call. Our poor tummies can get squeezed by our tense muscles. Stress can stop blood flow to the stomach. It can speed up breathing, which can cause dizziness. All can contribute to nausea and even vomiting.

  • Try to drink more water, as dehydration will worsen stress. Sip water when feeling ill. It doesn't contain any ingredients that may worsen the queasiness.
  • Avoid overeating, fizzy drinks or alcohol when stressed or nauseous.
  • Deep breathing calms the emotions and relaxes tense muscles.
  • Look after your blood sugar levels. Missed meals and an overreliance on sugary treats will play havoc with your moods. Anxiety can make your gut hypersensitive to change, and this can make your empty tummy feel sicker than it is.
  • If nausea is worse after a heavy meal or fatty food you may be not breaking down your fats properly. Bitter tasting foods like artichoke, radicchio and rocket lettuce can help. They promote digestive secretions like bile. The liver makes bile to break down fats and help get the bowel moving. A.Vogel's Digestisan is made from bitter herbs, dandelion and artichoke. It can be taken before each meal to aid digestion and it can help indigestion, bloating and wind.

3. Belching

Ructus (what an awful word) is the medical word for belching. Belching happens when the body needs to release excess air in the stomach that has built up. It's normal to gulp air and swallow more often when stressed. You may not be conscious of it, but it will have predictably burpy results.

  • Fizzy drinks are always good for a burp. This can be hilarious when you are five but far less charming in the latter years. Have a glass of still water instead – much better.
  • Smoking – you may be puffing away and gulping air at the same time.
  • Eating on the run and gobbling food down too quickly can trap air as you swallow. Relax and enjoy your food. Chew it. Sit up straight and don't bunch up your poor tummy: make room for the food.
  • GERD, acid reflux, is uncomfortable and painful. It happens when acid from the stomach rises into the oesophagus. This can feel like burning and cause irritation. It may increase wind, especially when you're nervous because it promotes swallowing. Treat this by soothing the irritated lining of your gullet. Silicol gel is a medical device that lines the digestive system. It is soothing and can reduce symptoms quickly. Drink plenty of water when you take this and do tell your GP if it hasn't cleared up after a few days.

4. Stomach ache and pain

Stress-induced trapped wind and tense muscles can cause a belly ache, as all those tense muscles squeeze the tummy. This is going to hurt if you have been gulping air and you are full of wind.

  • Have a lie down to release the burps. The oesophagus joins the stomach a little to the left of our middle. The stomach lies on our left side and there is a gentle curve where it meets the gullet. When you lie on your left side the air can escape more easily – cool tip eh!
  • Avoid foods that make you gassy. Chew your food and don't rush
  • Relax and breathe slowly, try not to gulp air when you are nervous.

Please see your GP or practitioner if you have stomach issues that are not responding to home remedies or over the counter remedies.


1 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/09/180920161011.htm
2 https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/what-causes-hiccups

AvenaCalm - Avena sativa tincture for mild stress and anxiety


£ 12.99

find your local stockist

Licensed fresh herb tincture of AvenaCalm Avena sativa for mild stress and anxiety.
More info

What's being asked

What is the difference between low mood and depression?

Typical symptoms of low mood include: - Low self esteem - Worrying - Tiredness - ...
Read more >

I am stressed. Will it be like this for the rest of my life now?

Stress has many causes and how long it tends to last depends on what's causing it and how we deal ...
Read more >

What are the causes of a panic attack?

A panic attack is generally triggered by heightened anxiety, usually through an anxiety provoking ...
Read more >

Are you stressed?

Take our simple 10 question test to see if you are under stress

Take the test

Here's what I recommend

As the A. Vogel Mood advisor, I recommend Stress Relief Daytime Drops to help relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Learn more

Did you know?

Stress can have a negative impact on your digestive system causing you to experience digestive problems such as wind, bloating, nausea, acid reflux, diarrhoea and constipation!

How to stop stress affecting your digestion

Healthy & nutritious dinner ideas

Get new recipes in your inbox every week. Sign up now