If you suffer from emetophobia you’re likely to be on high alert for any signs that you are getting sick. The problem is, the phobia itself can produce symptoms that you may mistake for signs that you have an illness. This can lead to a lot of unnecessary stress and worry.
In this article, we provide a brief explainer of how stress affects the body, and cover 5 symptoms that may simply be a result of your emetophobia.
The impact of stress on your body
A phobia is an anxiety disorder. This probably comes as no surprise to you if you have emetophobia, as you are likely to experience anxious thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. Anxiety levels peak when you come into contact with a trigger. At this point, you body will enter fight or flight mode, as it prepares itself to either flee from or take on the perceived threat.
The fight or flight response causes a range of changes to occur within the body. Some functions are considerably ramped up, while others are shut down completely. This process puts a certain amount of stress on the body, which you will feel via a variety of symptoms.
For emetophobes, stress responses like fight or flight add a layer of complication to their phobia, because it can be hard to separate the symptoms of anxiety from the symptoms of a potential illness. And, as we know, getting ill is a trigger in itself for many sufferers of emetophobia. As a result, you may find yourself in a vicious cycle of your anxiety response triggering your phobia.
To avoid this happening, let’s explore some common symptoms that can often be put down to anxiety, rather than a developing sickness.
Worried that the dull pain in your head is a sign that you’re heading for a night of dizziness and nausea? You can put your mind at rest with the knowledge that headaches are one of the most common symptoms of anxiety. This means that with a little rest and relaxation, they should fade without developing into something more serious.
Anxiety usually causes tension headaches, which can be exacerbated by other anxiety symptoms like muscle tightness and poor sleep. Plus, if you’re someone who is susceptible to headaches in the first place, it’s likely that anxiety will make them worse.
How to respond: Reduce screen time, drink more water and get some fresh air.
Sure, waking up in the middle of the night feeling uncomfortably clammy can be a sign that you have a fever. However, it might simply be the result of a bad dream, using a blanket that’s too thick for the season or, yep, anxiety.
Sweating is a natural product of the fight or flight process. Your body is in protection mode, which involves cooling itself down to prevent damage to vital organs. Unfortunately, with enough practice, it can start to activate this symptom even when you feel only slightly nervous.
How to respond: Target the anxiety itself with some relaxation exercises.
3. Digestive issues
One of the many intriguing aspects of anxiety is that it can produce directly opposing symptoms. The most clear example of this is when it comes to digestion. Anxiety linked to your emetophobia may cause you to experience constipation, but then on another occasion, it may cause you to have diarrhoea.
This rather confusing picture makes more sense when you consider the point of the fight or flight response. Depending on the nature of the trigger, your brain may direct the body to hold everything in to allow you to focus on avoiding the threat, or it may decide that quickly evacuating any waste will free up your system to deal with the task at hand.
The good news to take from this admittedly shoddy table of options is that digestive problems need not be considered a sign that you have a sickness bug.
How to respond: Drink plenty of water. Target constipation by eating more fibre and treat loose stool by sticking to plain food like rice and toast.
Feeling run-down is a somewhat inevitable consequence of anxiety. After all, what goes up must come down. The hormones that went into overdrive, causing you to feel highly alert and on-edge, eventually plummet, leaving you feeling drained. On top of this, excessive worrying can prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep, which will add to your fatigue.
Next time you feel overly tired, instead of assuming that you’re going to be hit with a bout of flu, consider giving your mental health some TLC. Even just acknowledging that anxiety could be the cause can set you on the road to recovery.
How to respond: Take a hot bath, have a nap or soothe yourself with some calming techniques.
And lastly we come to the anxiety symptom that can cause the most problems for people with emetophobia: nausea. When you combine fight or flight symptoms like increased blood flow, sudden digestive changes, sweating and rapid heart rate, it’s no surprise that one might feel nauseous as a result! Thankfully, though, this form of nausea hardly ever causes people to actually vomit.
Rather unfairly, the way anxiety works means that because you fear sick, you are more likely to experience nausea as a symptom of your phobia. Our brains are very powerful, and so if you focus very hard on something (like the idea of feeling sick) you can convince yourself that it is actually happening. Now that you know this, however, you can use it to your advantage.
How to respond: Remind yourself that nausea is a known symptom of anxiety, get some fresh air and eat or smell something mint-flavoured.
Phobia symptoms that can be mistaken for sickness
As you can see, anxiety is responsible for a range of symptoms that can easily be mistaken as signs of other illnesses. The next time you find that your emetophobia is triggered by a physical symptom, consider that anxiety is the likely culprit. As a result, you can put aside fears that vomit is on the way.
Of course, anxiety in itself is not something that anyone should have to put up with on a long-term basis. To treat all of the symptoms above and get to the root of what is causing your emetophobia, you should consider talking to a professional therapist.