Anxiety is something that manifests itself physically in a variety of different ways. One of the more common symptoms is abdominal pain or stomach cramps.
Studies have shown links between anxiety, depression and gut health, as well as a correlation between high levels of stress and the prevalence of IBS (Irritable Bowel Symptom).
This being said, physical responses to anxiety rarely occur in isolation. Physical symptoms of anxiety are often triggered by a release of the stress hormone cortisol or the chemical adrenaline in the caveman part of our brain. This is the survival-driven part of our brain that our newer, rational cortex grew on top of. Its primary concern is keeping us alive, so when our brain perceives a threat, it releases these stress chemicals and activates a response called the fight, flight or freeze response. This puts our body on high alert, and as a result, our body prepares to either fight, flight or freeze.
Why Does Anxiety Cause Abdominal Pain?
There are a few reasons why anxiety might cause abdominal pain or cramps. The first being that when our fight, flight or freeze response kicks in and our muscles start to tense. This isn’t just our calves or our thighs, this includes our core and our obliques, preparing to face whatever threat might be around the corner. The longer we keep these muscles tensed, the more sore they’re likely to be once they’re relaxed. Think about it like holding a plank, afterwards you definitely feel it in your stomach.
The second reason is to do with our hormone levels. When we feel anxious, cortisol and adrenaline are released, upsetting our hormone levels, including those in our stomach that help us to digest food. This means that we might feel some stomach pain or bloating when we’re nervous. Excess cortisol also produces extra levels of stomach acid, which can feel uncomfortable, cause nausea and eventually ulcers. Not ideal, but also not something that happens overnight. If you’re concerned about your stomach pain please visit a doctor – stomach pain are often symptoms of other conditions so it’s always best to ask a professional.
How Can I Stop This Symptom?
Anxiety-related abdominal pain and cramps are a difficult symptom to tackle, other than sipping water or avoiding spicy foods there isn’t a lot to be done to help just this symptom – it usually passes with the perceived threat.
In order to prevent the symptoms occurring, you need to manage or build strategies to tackle your anxiety. There are several options available including CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), mindfulness, medication and group therapy. If you’re unsure, please contact your GP for more information.