Living with emetophobia can be an extremely taxing experience. Even if you’re able to avoid most situations that trigger your condition, you never know when life might throw a curveball at you. So, what can you do when you have a bad day, or accidentally encounter things that trigger your fear of vomiting?
We’ve compiled a list of 8 calming techniques for emetophobia that can be added to your daily routine to help reduce your stress and minimise your symptoms.
Table of contents
- Breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Guided imagery
- The 5-4-3-2-1 technique
- Mindfulness meditation
- Gentle exercise
- Listen to music
- Do something creative
1. Breathing exercises
When our phobias are triggered, our heart rate starts to increase and our breathing gets faster and more shallow. This can make us feel dizzy, lightheaded and exacerbate our anxiety. For emetophobes, this can also result in feelings of nausea, which can make the situation even worse.
To combat this panic, you can try out exercises to help you regulate your breathing and alleviate your symptoms. There are dozens of breathing exercises you can try, but we’ve picked out three examples to get you started.
Box breathing, otherwise known as four-square breathing, is probably one of the easiest breathing exercises you can do. It involves inhaling and exhaling for four seconds at a time so that you can slow your heart rate down.
How it works:
- Exhale for four seconds
- Keep your lungs empty for four seconds
- Inhale for four seconds
- Hold the air in your lungs for four seconds
- Exhale and start over
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, involves you engaging your stomach muscles and diaphragm while breathing. Over time, it can strengthen your diaphragm and help your lungs work more efficiently.
How it works:
- Get into a comfortable position. You can sit cross-legged on a cushion, sit on a chair, or even lie down on your bed.
- Put one of your hands on your upper chest and the other below your rib cage. This will help you to monitor the movement of your diaphragm.
- Inhale slowly through your nose and pay attention to the air moving down through your body, feeling your stomach push up into your hand while your chest stays still.
- Exhale slowly, tighten your abdominal muscles and feel your stomach fall back from your hand while your chest stays still.
Working in a similar fashion to box breathing, 4-7-8 breathing involves inhaling and exhaling to a set number count. It can help you gain control of your breathing and, with practice, can be used to help you fall asleep faster.
How it works:
- Exhale slowly through your mouth while making a loud whooshing sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four seconds.
- Hold your breath in your lungs for seven seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, for eight seconds.
- Each inhale starts a new ‘cycle’ of breathing. To maximise the effectiveness of this exercise, you’ll need to complete four cycles.
The great thing about these breathing exercises is that they can be utilised quickly whenever you feel like your emetophobia symptoms are rising to the surface.
If that’s not enough for you, check out Verywell Mind’s 9 breathing exercises to relieve anxiety and stress.
- Give each type of breathing exercise a try so that you can see which one(s) works best for you.
- Pick one that is effective for when you’re out in public and another that works best for when you’re comfortable at home.
- Practise on a daily basis so that it becomes more natural and comfortable for you. This could be first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed.
- If you’re struggling to get into the right mindset, put on some white noise, wear a sleeping mask, or light a soothing candle to set the mood.
2. Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that can be used to help you train your muscles and body to respond differently to the stress and anxiety caused by your emetophobia. It involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups one at a time.
How it works:
To start, you’ll want to situate yourself in a quiet area where you can make your way through the exercise without any distractions. You’ll also want to wear comfortable clothes and avoid eating a big meal beforehand.
When you’re ready, you’ll want to tense each muscle group for five to ten seconds, then release the tension and relax for a further ten seconds. You’ll then keep moving through the groups until you reach the end.
- Hips and buttocks
- Chest and stomach
- Back and shoulders
- Lower arms
- Upper arms
You can either follow the bottom to top approach highlighted above, or switch the order around so that it’s top to bottom. All that matters is that you focus your efforts on releasing all of the tension you’ve been carrying in your body.
- Try completing some breathing exercises before you start to relax yourself further.
- Practise this every night before you go to bed and/or when you get home from a particularly stressful day.
- Go a step further and recite some positive affirmations as you do it.
- If you’re struggling, try some guided progressive muscle relaxation with YouTube.
3. Guided imagery
Guided imagery is a popular technique used by people who suffer from anxiety and stress. It is a process that involves visualising yourself elsewhere—focusing on each of your five senses—to help your body reach a relaxed state. Essentially, it’s a type of meditation.
How it works:
- Sit or lie down in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted for at least ten to fifteen minutes.
- Close your eyes, slow your breathing down and pay attention to each inhale and exhale.
- Try to imagine a place that relaxes you. This could be a beach, a forest, or a place you’ve visited on holiday. There’s no ‘correct’ destination here. All that matters is that it makes you feel happy.
- Focus your attention on your surroundings. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Let your imagination run wild!
- Keep going in your scenario, maintaining your deep breathing, until you feel like your body has lost its tension.
- Once your ten to fifteen minutes are up, you can open your eyes.
When your emetophobia has been triggered, or you let yourself start to imagine the ways in which you might encounter vomit, you’ll notice your body responding to your anxiety and stress. With guided imagery, however, you can essentially trick your mind and body into relaxing.
- The more you practise, the more natural and comfortable it will become.
- You might find it easier to follow an audio recording if you’re struggling to find the right scenario, e.g., a walk along the beach or a swim in the ocean.
- If you find the narration to be too distracting, pick some relaxing background noises instead, such as rainforest sounds or forest waterfall nature sounds.
4. The 5-4-3-2-1 technique
The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a grounding exercise that utilises your five senses to help you focus your attention on your surroundings, rather than your anxious thoughts. It’s a great way to distract yourself from your fear of vomiting and to focus on the present moment, rather than ‘what ifs’.
How it works:
As you’re sitting down, or walking around, open up your senses to your surroundings and pay attention to:
- 5 things you can see: the clouds in the sky, a cyclist, a colleague sitting in front of you.
- 4 things you can feel: the air on your face, your feet on the floor, a pen in your hand.
- 3 things you can hear: birds whistling, people laughing in the distance, a gust of wind.
- 2 things you can smell: fresh air, room fragrance, a fresh pot of coffee.
- 1 thing you can taste: your last meal, a piece of gum, tea/coffee.
When practised regularly, this technique can help you regulate your nerves and anxiety, as well as making you more mindful of the present moment.
- Practise this technique in as many settings as possible (at home, at work, during your commute) so that you can get used to the process.
- Round it off with one of your favourite breathing exercises when you’re feeling particularly stressed.
- If you’re struggling, get one of your friends to give it a try with you—make a game of trying to name unique things.
5. Mindfulness meditation
As we’ve briefly touched upon in our guide to treatments for emetophobia, mindfulness meditation is an effective way to steer yourself away from negative thoughts and become more aware of your present surroundings.
How it works:
- Find somewhere quiet to sit—on a chair or on the floor—with your head, neck and back straight.
- Focus on the way that your breath travels through your body. Feel how your stomach moves in and out with each inhale and exhale.
- Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions as you meditate. Feel them shift and pass you by like clouds on the wind.
- When you feel yourself starting to get weighed down by your fear or anxiety, think about what thought triggered this, without judgement, before returning your attention to your breathing.
Adding mindfulness meditation to your routine can help to reduce stress, lower the heart rate and even improve sleep. Rather than saving it for when your phobia has been triggered in some way, we’d recommend practising it two to three times a week to really reap the benefits.
- If you’re struggling to get started, try some guided mindfulness meditation with YouTube.
- Though it’s not necessary, you can go the extra mile to set the atmosphere by putting on some white noise, lighting a candle or using some essential oils.
- To build up your familiarity and tolerance for mindfulness meditation, start off with 5 minute sessions before steadily increasing it each time until you reach anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.
6. Gentle exercise
Relaxing your body and mind doesn’t always have to involve you sitting still. If you’re trying to distract yourself from your fear of vomiting, gentle exercise can be extremely effective and rewarding.
How it works:
Your choice of exercise will depend on how much time you have, what kind of space is at your disposal and your experience level with certain exercises.
You could keep things simple and go on a walk in your local park, or in a quiet area of the city. Whether it’s ten minutes or over an hour, walking at your own pace can help to empty your mind and relax your body. You can even combine it with the 5-4-3-2-1 technique to maximise your relaxation!
If you’re looking to push your body a bit and get those endorphins going, you can try:
You could even be doubly productive by opting to do some household chores like hoovering, mopping, or doing the dishes.
- If there are exercises that you haven’t tried before, but you’re not willing to take classes for, head to YouTube—there are plenty of fun tutorials for yoga, pilates and more!
- Once you’ve completed your chosen exercise, you could finish off with a breathing exercise or some mindfulness meditation.
- If you’re not sure what type of exercise works well for you, we’d recommend trying a range of activities over the course of a month—keeping a record of how you felt before, during and after to see what’s most effective.
7. Listen to music
When you feel your anxiety levels start to rise, use the power of music to distract you from the situation. Grab your headphones, press play and lose yourself in the instruments, lyrics and beats.
How it works:
You could pick your favourite artist/album/playlist on Spotify, but if you’re feeling particularly sensitive—and your nausea levels are starting to creep up—you might want to avoid anything that’s too energetic. Instead, opt for:
- A favourite TV/movie soundtrack
- Ambient music
- Classical music playlists
If you’re getting bored of sitting/lying down and closing your eyes, try something more dynamic like singing or dancing along to your favourite tracks. The more you can focus on things outside of your symptoms and concerns, the more calm you’ll feel.
- Take some time to create some playlists on Spotify or YouTube so that you can get to them quickly whenever your symptoms have been triggered.
- Consider creating different ones to correspond with how severe your symptoms are, e.g., upbeat music for when you need a slight distraction and basic soundtracks for when you’re feeling nauseous.
- If you’re concerned about encountering triggers on the go, get into the habit of bringing your headphones or earphones with you wherever you go.
8. Do something creative
Though the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling anxious is to do something creative, it can be an extremely effective way to reduce your stress and distract you from your emetophobia symptoms.
How it works:
Spend up to 30 minutes doing something creative without judging yourself. This could be:
- Colouring in
- Writing poetry
- Playing an instrument
It’s not about the finished product with this calming technique. It doesn’t matter if your drawing looks like a five year old did it, or if your singing is atrocious—what does matter is that you enjoy yourself.
- Try and experiment with a new hobby every month or so to keep things fresh and exciting.
- Keep necessary supplies in your bag so that you can distract yourself on the go, e.g., a drawing pad and pen, or a crochet hook and yarn.
What should I do if these calming techniques aren’t working?
If your emetophobia symptoms are still troubling you despite utilising these calming techniques, you might need to consider professional support to help you manage your phobia properly.
EmetoGo has a range of expert therapists on hand who will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your phobia, from CBT to EMDR, which can be held virtually or in-person.
To take the first step on your journey towards managing your fear of vomiting, simply fill out our contact form!