Butterflies In The Stomach, Nervous Stomach

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated April 22, 2022

butterflies in the stomach, nervous stomach, queasiness anxiety symptoms picture

Anxiety butterflies in the stomach,” nervous stomach, and stomach queasiness are common anxiety disorder symptoms, including anxiety and panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, phobias, and others.

This article explains the relationship between anxiety and feeling like you have “butterflies in the stomach” symptoms.

Anxious “Butterflies In The Stomach” Common Symptom Descriptions

  • You get a sudden “nervous stomach” feeling.
  • You suddenly have an uneasy queasiness in your stomach.
  •  It feels like you have “butterflies” in your stomach.
  • Your stomach feels “fluttery.”
  • It feels like your stomach is experiencing light or mild tremors.
  • You have a nauseous, seasick, unsettled, uneasy, or ill-feeling in the stomach.
  • You feel sick to your stomach.
  • Your stomach feels warm and sickly.

This symptom can:

  • Occur occasionally, frequently, or persistently.
  • Precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms or occur by itself.
  • Precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no reason.
  • Range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe.
  • Come in waves where it’s strong one moment and eases off the next.
  • Change from day to day and moment to moment.

All combinations and variations of the above are common.

To see if anxiety might be playing a role in your symptoms, rate your level of anxiety using our free one-minute instant results Anxiety Test, Anxiety Disorder Test, or Hyperstimulation Test.

The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to or causing your anxiety symptoms, including feeling like impending doom symptoms.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

What Causes Anxiety “Butterflies In The Stomach” Symptoms?

Medical Advisory

Talk to your doctor about all new, changing, persistent, and returning symptoms as some medical conditions and medications can cause anxiety-like symptoms.

Additional Medical Advisory Information.

When this symptom is solely attributed to anxiety and stress, three of the most common reasons include:

1. The stress response

Anxious behavior activates the stress response, which secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots to bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat – to either fight or flee.

This survival reaction is the reason why the stress response is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, or the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”).[1][2]

Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about its many changes.

stomach and digestive system

The stress response causes many body-wide changes, including:

  • Tightens muscles so that the body is more resilient to harm, including those in the stomach and abdomen.
  • Shunts blood to parts of the body more important for survival, such as the brain and muscles, and away from those less important, such as the skin and digestive system.
  • Suppresses the digestive system so that the body's energies are directed to those systems that are vital for survival.

To name a few.

Any of these changes can cause “butterflies in the stomach” symptoms.

Many people experience a “nervous stomach” feeling when first in love, nervous, mildly stimulated, or afraid.

2. Hyperstimulation

When stress responses occur too frequently, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can become hyperstimulated (chronically stressed) since stress hormones are powerful stimulants.

Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”[3][4]

Visit our “Hyperstimulation” article for more information about the many ways hyperstimulation can affect the body and how we feel.

Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. Feeling “butterflies in the stomach” is a common indication of hyperstimulation (chronic stress).

Hyperstimulation can also cause involuntary panic attacks, causing sudden and “out of the blue” episodes of stomach queasiness, such as feeling like you have “butterflies in the stomach.”

Hyperstimulation can also cause many stomach and digestive symptoms, which can create episodes of this symptom, especially immediately after you eat or as the stomach empties out an hour or more after eating.

Hyperstimulation (chronic stress) is a common cause of intermittent or persistent stomach problems and symptoms, such as nervous stomach and queasiness.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Other Factors

Other factors can create stress and cause anxiety-like symptoms, as well as aggravate existing anxiety symptoms, including:

Select the relevant link for more information.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Treatment

When other factors cause or aggravate this anxiety symptom, addressing the specific cause can reduce and eliminate this symptom.

When an active stress response causes this symptom, ending the active stress response will cause this acute anxiety symptom to subside.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and needn’t be a cause for concern.

When hyperstimulation (chronic stress) causes "butterflies in the stomach" feelings, eliminating hyperstimulation will end this anxiety symptom.

You can eliminate hyperstimulation by:

  • Reducing stress.
  • Containing anxious behavior (since anxiety creates stress).
  • Regular deep relaxation.
  • Avoiding stimulants.
  • Regular light to moderate exercise.
  • Eating a healthy diet of whole and natural foods.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms until they subside.
  • Being patient as your body recovers.

Visit our “60 Natural Ways To Reduce Stress” article for more ways to reduce stress.

As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, it stops sending symptoms, including this one.

Symptoms of chronic stress subside as the body regains its normal, non-hyperstimulated health.

However, eliminating hyperstimulation can take much longer than most people think, causing symptoms to linger longer than expected.

As long as the body is even slightly hyperstimulated, it can present symptoms of any type, number, intensity, duration, frequency, and at any time, including this one.

Even so, since "butterflies in the stomach" is a common symptom of stress, including anxiety-caused stress, it's harmless and needn't be a cause for concern. It will subside when unhealthy stress has been eliminated and the body has had sufficient time to recover. Therefore, there is no reason to worry about it.

Anxiety symptoms often linger because:

  • The body is still being stressed (from stressful circumstances or anxious behavior).
  • Your stress hasn't diminished enough or for long enough.
  • Your body hasn't completed its recovery work.

Addressing the reason for lingering symptoms will allow the body to recover.

Most often, lingering anxiety symptoms ONLY remain because of the above reasons. They AREN'T a sign of a medical problem. This is especially true if you have had your symptoms evaluated by your doctor and they have been solely attributed to anxiety or stress.

Chronic anxiety symptoms subside when hyperstimulation is eliminated. As the body recovers and stabilizes, all chronic anxiety symptoms will slowly diminish and eventually disappear.

Since worrying and becoming upset about anxiety symptoms stress the body, these behaviors can interfere with recovery.

Passively accepting your symptoms – allowing them to persist without reacting to, resisting, worrying about, or fighting them – while doing your recovery work will cause their cessation in time.

Acceptance, practice, and patience are key to recovery.

Keep in mind that it can take a long time for the body to recover from hyperstimulation. It's best to faithfully work at your recovery despite the lack of apparent progress.

However, if you persevere with your recovery work, you will succeed.

You also have to do your recovery work FIRST before your body can recover. The cumulative effects of your recovery work will produce results down the road. And the body's stimulation has to diminish before symptoms can subside.

  • Reducing stress.
  • Increasing rest.
  • Faithfully practicing your recovery strategies.
  • Passively accepting your symptoms.
  • Containing anxious behavior.
  • Being patient.

These will bring results in time.

When you do the right work, the body has to recover!

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Short-term strategies

Even though eliminating hyperstimulation will eliminate chronic anxiety symptoms, including nervous stomach, some people have found the following strategies helpful.

However, keep in mind that each person can have a unique symptom experience. What might work for one person might not for another:

  • Relaxed diaphragmatic breathing – stimulates the vagus nerve, which in turn can help calm the body and allow blood to flow back to the stomach, which can reduce and eliminate this sensation.
  • Calm your body – calming your body will shut off the stress response and allow the body to return to normal functioning, including restoring normal blood flow to the stomach.
  • Relaxing, resting – relaxing the body shuts off and reverses the effects of the stress response, which allows the body to return to normal functioning.
  • Reduce stress – reduces the effects of the stress response, including those involving the stomach.
  • Regular good sleep – can calm the body and reduce cortisol production, thereby, reducing stimulation and its sensations and symptoms.
  • Relax your stomach muscles – will allow blood to return to the stomach.
  • Make your body feel heavy and relaxed – can help relax the body, which can also shut off and reverse the effects of the stress response.
  • Take a warm bath – can relax the body and reduce the effects of stress.
  • Contain worry – worry stresses the body, and a body that’s stressed produces sensations and symptoms of stress, including this one. Containing worry can prevent unnecessary stress responses and their negative effects.
  • Light to moderate exercise – can reduce stress and relax tight stomach muscles, returning normal blood flow to the stomach.

Therapy

Unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors cause issues with anxiety. As such, they are the primary reason why anxiety symptoms persist.[5][6][7]

Addressing your underlying factors (Level Two recovery) is most important if you want lasting success.

Addressing Level Two recovery can help you:

  • Contain anxious behavior.
  • Become unafraid of anxiety symptoms and the strong feelings of anxiety.
  • End anxiety symptoms.
  • Successfully address the underlying factors that so often cause issues with anxiety.
  • End what can feel like out-of-control worry.

All our recommended anxiety therapists have had anxiety disorder and overcame it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder and their Master's Degree and above professional training gives them insight other therapists don't have.

If you want to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, any one of our recommended therapists would be a good choice.

Working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to treat anxiety disorder, especially if you have persistent symptoms and difficulty containing anxious behavior, such as worry.

In many cases, working with an experienced therapist is the only way to overcome stubborn anxiety.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

Prevalence

In an online poll we conducted, 93 percent of respondents said they had “butterflies in the stomach” due to their anxiety.

---------- Advertisement - Article Continues Below ----------


---------- Advertisement Ends ----------

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including "butterflies in the stomach," nervous stomach, and queasiness anxiety symptoms.

References

1. Berczi, Istvan. “Walter Cannon's ‘Fight or Flight Response’ - ‘Acute Stress Response.’” Walter Cannon's "Fight or Flight Response"  - "Acute Stress Response", 2017.

2. Godoy, Livea, et al. "A Comprehensive Overview on Stress Neurobiology: Basic Concepts and Clinical Implications." Frontiers In Behavioral Neuroscience, 3, July 2018.

3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018.

4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015.

5. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012.

6. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017.

7. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.