When you experience a "nervous stomach," a looming sense of uneasiness overwhelms your abdomen, right to the pit of your gut. You get that familiar "uh-oh" feeling, even in situations where the threat is minimal, or the consequences mild. You may think you were born with a lack of courage to face normal life challenges. The reality is that perhaps you simply have a sensitive stomach. You may not know it, but bravery and emotional stability can be recovered by following some basic Ayurvedic tips to restore digestive strength.
A nervous stomach tends to strike in specific situations. Take for example, it is the night before you are set to start a new job, or you are waiting to be picked up for a first date. Perhaps you are sitting down to take a final exam, or are waiting for your name to be called to give a presentation in front of your entire department at work. It is normal to experience uneasiness in the stomach during these situations. Your 'gut brain' contains over 1/3 of your whole nervous system, and is specially designed to interpret these threatening situations. Your symptoms of a nervous stomach may resolve shortly after the anxiety provoking situation has passed.
However, a nervous stomach can also be a chronic complaint. If you have that uh-oh feeling in your gut often, even when faced with more minor concerns, or for no clear reason whatsoever, you may be dealing with a nervous stomach. These gut feelings strongly influence your decisions. Emotional reactivity to gut anxiety can disrupt your ability to think through a situation. Easing gut tension can give you more emotional resilience, poise, and grace under stress.
This article will reveal what factors may be contributing to your nervous stomach, and also share some of the top Ayurvedic diet, lifestyle and herbal solutions to provide lasting relief.
Symptoms of a Nervous Stomach
Every person will experience the sensation of a nervous stomach slightly differently. Some may feel a slight tension, uneasiness or nauseas in their abdomen. The sensation may be in the pit of the stomach below the belly button, in the region around the belly button, or higher up just below the rib cage. Some simply feel hungry when anxious (stress overeater), or lose their appetite altogether (stress undereater).
Others have more poignant symptoms: their stomach starts to do somersaults and it feels like the intestines are getting twisted and tangled in knots. Some may feel like hot liquid is pouring on their stomach as their body releases acids, bile and digestive juices in response to the stress. The anxious feeling may be accompanied by uncomfortable cramping, embarrassing gas and bloating, and a sudden urge to pass a bowel movement.
What Causes a Nervous Stomach
If there are butterflies in the belly, Vata is aggravated. However, the cause may have qualities of any one of the three doshas, Vata, Pitta, or Kapha. Vata nervousness is associated with gas and bloating. Pitta anxiety is associated with inflammation and irritation. Kapha nervousness is associated with heaviness in the gut.
You May Actually Be Nervous!
The most obvious reason for experiencing a nervous stomach can be overlooked. It is very possible that the digestive distress of a nervous stomach is simply a result of you feeling nervous about something! Perhaps you are about to engage in one of those "butterflies in your stomach" situations like preparing to give a speech in front of a large crowd or asking your boss for a raise.
The vagus nerve transmits signals between your brain and your gut. Feelings of anxiety and nervousness are relayed from the brain to digestive tract. If you feel uneasy, scattered, and unsettled due to stress and anxiety, these feelings will be transmitted to the digestive organs.
Feelings of nervousness, along with stress and anxiety, can create tension in the body. The muscle below the belly button and above the pelvic bone tends to tense up in situations where you feel threatened or vulnerable. This area is known as the "threat point." When the threat point is tense, it creates a sensation of butterflies in the stomach.
Your Gut is Tense & Tight
If your gut is tight and tense, it will trigger feelings of anxiety. Your gut may be tense if there is hidden pain, irritation, or bloating in the digestive tract. Or, you may have a habit of tensing your abdomen due to emotional trauma. Ayurveda believes that emotional traumas can be stored as chronic tension in the belly.
Abdominal tension reduces blood flow to digestive organs and can weaken digestive strength (agni). Stress also activates the sympathetic nervous system, or "fight or flight" mode, which reduces most digestive secretions, while increasing acid release in the stomach.Fortunately, you can release this gut level tension and the trauma, once and for all, using some of the techniques below.
Something Else is at Play
A nervous stomach is not a specific medical condition, but is often a symptom of other conditions. Gas or constipation that stretches intestinal walls creates a feeling of pressure, which can make a person nervous. Nervousness may come as a side effect of toxins building up in the digestive tract, which irritates the gut and creates a general feeling of dis-ease. Or, it may be due to any number of digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), food allergies, or parasites. If you feel you are dealing with a chronic nervous stomach and can't figure out why, seek medical advice to rule out a more serious digestive condition.
How to Calm a Nervous Stomach
Belly breathing is the first and most important technique to relieve tension in the gut. Belly breathing restores movement to tense muscles, relaxing them. It restores good circulation to digest organs. It flushes stagnant blood and lymph, which cleanses the gut of toxins, and provides immediate relief to gut nerves.
Together, belly breathing and massaging the gut activate the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxing your body. Another option is to rub the soft spot behind the earlobes, in between the neck and jaw. This gently stimulates the vagus nerve which also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping reduce feelings of anxiety and a nervous stomach.
These activities can be done any time of day, whenever symptoms arise. They can also be added to your daily routine at key points in your day: in the morning, after work, and before bed. For more information about reducing stress in the gut, purchase this lecture on Protecting Your Digestion from Stress & Anxiety.
Implement a Routine
The gut loves familiarity and relaxes in familiar situations. The gut becomes anxious and tense in situations of instability or unfamiliarity. The instability could be emotional, coming from unstable life situations. Or it could by physical, due to travel, a recent move, or an erratic routine.
Altogether, a routine builds familiarity, helps your gut calm down, and restores a sense of stability and security. It calms an agitated nervous system and reduces feelings of anxiety. Start by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and establish a regular schedule for meal times.
Once that becomes a habit, consider adding a full body self-massage ((abhyanga)) to your daily routine. Although a full self body massage adds twenty minutes to your morning routine, it is very relaxing to the entire nervous system.
When dealing with a nervous stomach, it is important to avoid a hectic lifestyle as much as possible, and limit running around on an irregular schedule. Ensure you stay warm by dressing appropriately, wearing thick socks, a hat and scarf if needed. Cold aggravates Vata dosha, associated with nervousness, and anxiety. Cold also causes tension and muscular constriction.
What to Eat
When experiencing a nervous stomach, it is important to eat easy to digest food to reduce digestive strain. Avoid difficult to digest foods. Cook and serve food warm. Avoid foods that are raw and cold, as these are harder to digest.
Add some sweet and salty foods to help you feel "grounded" during times of nervousness or anxiety. Ayurveda makes a very clear distinction between wholesome sweet and salty foods and their processed counterparts. White sugar and table salt both irritate the nervous system and can make anxiety and a nervous stomach worse. Something with a little natural sweetness, like rice pudding or a cup of golden milk is a comforting option to soothe anxiety, while a pinch of mineral salt helps nourish nerve tissues.
Avoid digestive irritants, such as coffee, vinegar and alcohol. These irritants will increase gut level sensitivity, amplify feelings of stress and induce a "fight or flight" state. Strong spices such as cayenne should also be avoided, as spicy foods irritate the tissues of the digestive tract and can worsen abdominal pain and cramping. As much as possible, sit down and take your time when eating, and avoid eating on the run.
If stress and anxiety are the source of a nervous stomach, herbs such as shankhapushpi, ashwagandha, tincture of milky oats, and kava kava, can help calm an agitated nervous system and balance Vata. To support digestion, use the digestive herb chart on Joyful Belly to find the right herb for your digestive health.
Antispasmodics can help relax the smooth muscles of the digestive tract, alleviating cramping, tension, and constriction in the abdomen. Some everyday kitchen herbs and spices with antispasmodic properties include cardamom, fennel, fresh ginger, and mint. These herbs also help dispel embarrassing gas too. If the digestive tract is irritated or inflamed, anti-inflammatories like amalaki, shatavari or marshmallow root may be also useful.
A relaxed, tranquil gut bolsters identity. facilitates feelings of security, and can soothe confusion. When you consider that one third of your brain is in your gut, the adage trust your gut takes on a new dimension. We all are familiar with gut feelings. That term is not just an expression, but an abdominal barometer of security..
Most people will experience a nervous stomach from time to time, and thankfully it tends to be a temporary complaint. Those butterflies that swirl in your stomach generally pass once you have gone through the anxiety inducing situation. However, you may go about each day with a distracting feeling of uncertainty in your gut that sticks around, even when there is no immediate threat. It can have a significant impact on your day to day life, particularly if it affects your bowels and means you need to stay within reach of a toilet.
Many people regularly experience nervous anxiety in their gut. If that's you, instead of criticizing yourself for lack of confidence or courage, consider the possibility that a sensitive stomach is to blame. Strengthening digestion is Ayurveda's area of expertise, and it can help restore emotional stability and reduce feelings of a nervous stomach through lifestyle, diet, and herbal support. By understanding the cause of a nervous stomach and resolving the problem at its source, you can calm the butterflies in your belly for good.
Augment your diet with these specially chosen ingredients below which may be useful for 'Nervous stomach / butterflies'.
Individual results vary depending the cause of your imbalance and by constitution.
Please research the ingredients below to find which are most helpful for you, and check with your doctor before making any changes to your health and wellness routine.
DISCLAIMER: The pathogenesis of each person's condition is unique, and so the diet must be fit to the individual and the unique root causes of the condition in your body.
The information on this page is for educational purposes only and should not be used to treat a medical condition. It is not a substitute for medical care.
Please check with your doctor before making any changes to your health and wellness routine.
HOW DOES AYURVEDA HEAL 'NERVOUS STOMACH / BUTTERFLIES'?
AVOID DIETS, LIFESTYLES & HERBS THAT AGGRAVATE THESE EFFECTS
According to Ayurveda, one or more of the following
and biocharacteristics may aggravate 'Nervous stomach / butterflies'.
If you have an excess of one of these doshas or biocharacteristics below, Ayurveda recommends reducing foods and lifestyle habits that aggravate them.
Click on the biocharacteristic to learn what foods and
lifestyle habits should be reduced.
Symptoms Tell A Story
The first step to healing is learning patterns from your symptoms.
Symptoms are clues that reveal underlying imbalances.
Symptoms show you where your body is weakened.
Ultimately, all disease has a root in tissues too weak to defend itself.
Ayurveda describes these patterns of weakness using doshas & biocharacteristics.
If you notice a biocharacteristic or dosha appears next to many of your symptoms,
it helps you establish a pattern that may be systemic.
FAVOR DIETS, LIFESTYLES & HERBS WITH THESE MEDICINAL EFFECTS
Everything you eat has an effect on your body, which Ayurveda categorizes in a simple and easy way, using biocharacteristics (gunas).
Biocharacteristics are qualities (like cold and hot) that describe the effect a food or herb has on your body.
Cooling foods like cucumber, decrease metabolism.
Heating foods like chili pepper, stimulate your body and increase metabolism.
For 'Nervous stomach / butterflies', you should select foods with the following biocharacteristics.
Individual results will vary, based on your body type and the root cause of your imbalance.
FOODS TO FAVOR
CONDITION IN YOUR BODY
ABOUT EASY BIOCHARACTERISTIC
Easy refers to anything easy to digest, or digests quickly.
NERVOUS STOMACH / BUTTERFLIES IS IN STAGE OF DISEASE 1 - AFFECTING DIGESTION
If you have symptoms in this category, your body is sending you a warning sign.
Since digestion is so metabolically intensive and sensitive to stress and emotions, the earliest warning signs of imbalance usually appear in the digestive tract first.
You may have gas and bloating, for example, or acid reflux.
Ayurveda recommends paying careful, close attention to warning signs.
They indicate that an imbalance is starting to accumulate.
Correct these warning signs before they accumulate further and weaken your body's resistance.
This is usually accomplished by removing diet and lifestyle habits that aggravate your imbalanced doshas and biocharacteristics.
REDUCE THESE RELATED SYMPTOMS & HABITS
The following symptoms & habits may be related to 'Nervous stomach / butterflies'.
See your quiz results for a computerized assessment of your body type.
Please click on the symptoms below to learn more about them.
Biocharacteristics of the 10,770 People Reporting Nervous stomach / butterflies
On average the biocharacteristics
of people reporting Nervous stomach / butterflies were more aggravated than 54% of other symptoms.
From the 10,770 people who reported Nervous stomach / butterflies in this research study of 74,671 individuals,
average deviation in biocharacteristic levels were the following:
Ayurveda strengthens the body, in addition to addressing the disorder. It take a holistic,
systemic approach, instead of focusing only on the disorder in question. Ayurveda
shows a person how to interpret signs and symptoms of imbalance, and how to address them
using materials from home, so they can optimize their health on a continual basis. You can't
take the doctor home with you, but you can take Ayurveda home with you.
Ayurveda is the most advanced and easy to use home system for self healing with an
exceptional focus on digestion.
HOW DOES AYURVEDA WORK?
Ayurveda starts by identifying your body type,
which identifies certain tendencies in your body to get sick (as well as identifying your strengths).
It uses body type to determine the likely root causes of your disorders.
Next, Ayurveda analyzes the nature of your disorder.
It fits all your signs and symptoms into a pattern, expressed as a combination of biocharaceristics (gunas).
For example, you may have a heat disorder, a cold disorder, or an oily disorder, etc.
This simple categorical approach shows you how to correct systemic imbalances and strengthen your body as a whole.
On Joyful Belly, we've created an extensive categorization of food so you can easily match food to your imbalanced biocharacteristics.
By eating an optimal diet that balances your biocharacteristics, your whole body is strengthened
and the conditions that created the disorder are removed. Once the root causes of the disease
are removed, the disease lessens in strength or disappears altogether. Additional remedies -
such as herbs and lifestyle practices - focused on the specific disorder, can greatly enhance
To get started on your Ayurvedic journey, we first recommend that your find your body
type by taking our free quiz. In Ayurveda, every solution is based on your unique body type, so
by taking this quiz, you’ll get the best results.
John Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a
healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda.
His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful.
John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda
, which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition.
John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia.
John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion.
John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing.
In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots,
and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church.
Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick.
That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.