Nervous Stomach Anxiety: yin/yang explanation

Anxious woman sitting on a bench
Photo By Ryan McGuire

Key Learning Points

  • Nervous Stomach Anxiety could be several things in Chinese medicine
  • It could be from excess yang energy, or deficient yin energy, or a combination of both
  • Not just your Stomach, but your Spleen, Heart, Kidney and Liver energy organs may be involved
  • Depending on the diagnosis, besides acupuncture here are other ways to help yourself!

Nervous Stomach Anxiety Symptoms

If you have ever had nervous stomach anxiety this page is for you! The Chinese get it too, and for the same reasons as you!

It may also be for you if you keep asking yourself ‘Why does my Stomach Hurt!’

But they don’t call it ‘nervous stomach anxiety’. Those are words we use when we feel anxious in our abdomen, particularly in our upper abdomen, the area above the belly button and below our ribs.

People say they feel one or more of the following symptoms together with anxiety:

  • ‘butterflies’ in the epigastrium (ie above the belly button)
  • gas, gurgling in the intestines
  • burping, perhaps
  • flatulence ie ‘wind’ going downwards = farting
  • difficulty swallowing
  • nausea
  • reduced appetite…
  • …but sometimes the urge to eat more to quell the anxiety
  • cramping pains or contractions in the abdomen
  • burning, bursting pains, along the path of the large intestine
  • need to loosen clothes
  • dry mouth
  • spasms
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
Points sometimes used to help nervous stomach nervous anxiety

Anxiety can come with many other possible symptoms, including changes in your:

  • breathing, (eg hyper-ventilating, sighing, holding breath)
  • heart rhythm, (faster, often with raised blood pressure )
  • perspiration (clammy hands or face, sweaty arm-pits)
  • circulation, (cold feet and fingers, headaches, heat flushes)
  • muscles (eg cramps, tightness, trembling, aching)
    • … with an increase in your need to pee (urinate) or shit (defaecate), often suddenly and inconveniently
    • … and longer term, if anxiety continues you may feel unable to achieve sexual fulfilment, which brings …
    • … lowered self-confidence.

Why do you get Nervous Stomach Anxiety?

Fundamentally in Chinese medicine, the reason for nervous stomach anxiety is because of an imbalance between ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. (Rather than make this page too long, I invite you to click on my page on balancing yin and yang.)

  • An excess of Yang energy makes things hotter and faster: perhaps more exciting, but less restful.
  • A deficiency of Yin energy makes you more easily disturbed, excitable and restless, short on reserves.


Putting these together you may understand that too much yang, especially when it goes on and on, is exhausting. Your yin reserves, which you can recover by leading a calm life, with good nutrition and time for rest and sleep, get exhausted by too much yang. Just as your car’s fuel reserves quickly run out if you go everywhere at full revs, foot to the floor!

When your yin reserves are exhausted, you are even more susceptible to yang disturbances, you often can’t sleep properly and may even tremble with fear. Eventually, if it gets really bad, you become unable to react properly. In fact, your personality goes to pieces.

Hand reaching for the sky from under water
Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Explaining Nervous Stomach Anxiety in terms of Qi, Yin and Yang

Chinese medicine explains everything in terms of Qi, which translates – badly – as ‘energy’. But once you get the idea of what they mean by it, you’ll start to appreciate how Chinese medicine thinks and works.

Let’s take some of the nervous stomach anxiety symptoms that you may have. Suppose you get

  • a fluttering in your upper abdomen, just below your ribs (‘butterflies’)
  • dryness in your mouth
  • tightness or constriction in your throat, making it hard to swallow
  • your heart pulse can be felt strongly

When you think about it, you may realise you have other symptoms too, such as sweaty palms but cold hands (in spite of being sweaty), tightness in your neck, and so on.

All these are various kinds of excess Yang Qi because they are either

  • moving (eg fluttering: movement is a sign of yang)
  • dryness (yang dries out your yin ability to moisturise)
  • yang rising up, uncontrolled by yin, so yang qi pushes upwards to your throat, tightening it
  • yang pushes up into your chest more than it should, causing a stronger, possibly faster pulse

Perhaps you know someone who, in the same situation, could remain calm, unruffled. It could even have been you, were it not for being unable to sleep well since someone rammed your car.

That lack of sleep, plus the shock, has upset the balance of yin and yang in you. Your yin energy has not recovered and your yang energy is slightly out of control, like a bunch of naughty schoolchildren in a classroom when the teacher leaves them alone for a few minutes.

5 Element theory and Nervous Stomach Anxiety

Five Elements or Phases
Five Phase Diagram – Copyright Acupuncture Points

This 5 Element acupuncture theory approaches nervous stomach anxiety in a completely different way. It looks for an underlying mis-function in one of your 12 channel energies. By putting that right, gradually many other problems improve.

Curiously, the mis-functioning channel energy may not be your Stomach energy! it could be any of the twelve. The art of this system comes in the ability to diagnose which channel, and then in how to treat it.

This theory developed alongside the Traditional Chinese medical theories of the last 3000 years.

Getting more specific about Nervous Stomach Anxiety

Baby Yawning. Worries about your baby often lead to nervous stomach anxiety.
Photo by Tim Bish on Unsplash

When you lack good sleep, your body can’t restore what is meant in Chinese medicine by your ‘Blood‘. Click the link to find out more, but their concept goes much further than the Western medical concept of the red stuff in our veins that we call ‘blood’.

For example, if you’ve ever seen someone losing blood fast, perhaps from a wound or haemorrhage, you’ll recognise how their personality begins to go to pieces, they lose their poise, their character and resilience, all of which, in Chinese medicine, are stored in the Blood (capital B). In effect their Mind (or presence of mind) goes as their body goes to pieces.

Heart and Kidney

In Chinese medicine, the Heart ‘rules’ the Shen, which (badly) translates as Mind. If our Mind is disturbed, so may be our Heart energy. That can carry through to our heart organ, giving us heart flutterings, which make us even more anxious.

But the Heart energy is balanced by the Kidney energy. (Actually, in Chinese medicine, the Heart sends its Qi and Blood downwards, and the Kidneys send their moisture upwards but let’s just say they balance one another.)

If the Kidney energy doesn’t balance the Heart, the Heart energy may also become unstable. That can lead to anxiety, palpitations and flutterings. It can eventually lead to high blood pressure and a range of other symptoms which you can read about here.

Heart and Liver

Your Heart is also very influenced by your Liver.

Your Liver energy is disturbed when you get frustrated, or must take too many decisions closely together, or can’t get rid of stress and/or anger. Liver Qi stagnation is typical.

Then you may also get signs of Liver Yang or even Liver Fire.

All these produce nervous stomach anxiety too.

Heart, Spleen and Stomach

The Shen – your ‘Mind’ – ‘lives in your Blood’. (Remember, this is Chinese medicine we’re talking about! Tell this to a – Western medicine – doctor and s/he’ll look at you in a peculiar way!)

If your Blood is deficient, or Stagnant, your Shen-Mind can’t live there comfortably.

It – your ‘Shen-Mind’, gets ‘nervous’, and you get flutterings.

At a deeper level, you may have symptoms of one of the most important ‘extra-ordinary’ vessels, called Chong Mo.

That can certainly lead to flutterings as part of your nervous stomach anxiety.

That set of symptoms often comes with other symptoms, which in women often arrive with painful periods.

But they can come for anyone, male or female.


Nervous Stomach Anxiety: What to Do!

Coping mechanisms for Anxiety

If you are a tobacco smoker, or other kind of drug taker, using the drug to calm the nervous stomach anxiety, why does it work?

It works, at least in the case of tobacco, by stimulating your Lungs to send energy DOWN.

This is why smokers take their first few puffs deeply. After the drug has taken effect, they ease off and may even forget the cigarette. By then, the tobacco has stimulated the Lungs to send energy downwards, which steadies the various kinds of energy problems mentioned above.

Of course, we all know what the secondary effects of smoking can be.

If Nervous Stomach Anxiety is due to Heart and Kidney imbalance

Women stretching on yoga mats. A very calming position for nervous stomach anxiety
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

  • Yoga, with emphasis on the breathing, really helps
  • If you can’t do yoga, take regular walks outside, enjoying the fresh air, and go for longer walks on your days off work
  • Meditation is good. So is prayer. To be useful, you must practise them.
  • Learn exercises to strengthen your abdomen and back
  • Gentle dancing is great!
  • Make sure you get good sleep
  • Make sure you get enough rest and holidays
  • (Most of the above help strengthen your Yin energy.)
  • Assertiveness training helps regulate your Yang energy
  • Read Gallbladder: a strong Gallbladder energy can help steady your Yang energy
  • Gentle, stimulating massage is good.
  • Acupuncture is GREAT.


Due to Heart and Liver

  • Learn to spot when your Qi is stagnating. I’ve written a book about it, which (…ahem…) gets good reviews.
  • Take plenty of exercise, enough to get you out of breath regularly. Often physical sports that take your mind off frustrations are particularly good for you. Exercise moves qi and dissipates blocks anywhere it stagnates.
  • If very frustrated, get someone to firmly massage your back and anywhere you feel tense.
  • Try to ease up on having to compete all the time, or to be better than everyone else, or always first.
  • Vigorous dancing is good.
  • Acupuncture is really good at helping with Qi Stagnation, so if it helps this it helps nervous stomach anxiety too.


Due to Heart, Spleen and Stomach

  • Does anxiety make you tired? Almost certainly it does, if due to Heart, Spleen and Stomach because your Spleen and Stomach represent your digestion which provides your energy. So if they aren’t working properly, anxiety will make you tired.
  • Although suggestions made above for Heart and Kidney or Liver may help, if your Blood is deficient hard physical exercise won’t be good for you and might make you feel faint.
  • You need to address your nutrition, and your body’s ability to digest and absorb what you eat: try acupuncture! What you eat will in due course make a huge difference to your health and nervous stomach anxiety.
  • You may benefit from supplements but realise you must take them for some time usually before you notice benefits.
  • Is anxiety a mental disorder? When your Heart energy is involved, probably your Mind will be too, so with Heart, Spleen and Stomach problems your thinking and mental clarity will be challenged.
  • The range of foods you eat has been found to influence your Mind. So, if you are eating a green salad, don’t make it with just one kind of lettuce: use leaves from several kinds of lettuce. Each contributes a slightly different contribution to your health. In the same way if you like nuts, don’t eat just walnuts. Also eat brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds and so on. (And not peanuts – they aren’t nuts from trees and though popular may not work the same way. Also, they’re treated to make you want to eat too many of them, producing a lop-sided diet, which then tends to create susceptibility to ill-health.)


Just as important …

  • … will be to learn to eat regularly – good food, of course – taking it slowly to eat, chewing well, leaving time to relax or walk about a little afterwards, and …
  • … not to rush food, nor eat it while working nor driving nor snatched between tasks, nor if angry or upset and …
  • … not to eat big meals when tired.
  • With weak Stomach, often this anxiety causes nausea. Overcome this by adding a little ginger to your diet, and by taking small amounts of food regularly, and chewing it long and well. Chewing recruits the energy of your Stomach (the Stomach channel goes through your jaw and the muscles that make your mouth and jaw bite and grind food. So chewing gets your Stomach working even before you swallow.)
  • Sleep is also important to help you recover your Spleen and Stomach Qi.
  • Take life a little more calmly and slowly. Rest more.
  • You’ll enjoy light massage that is calming but not deep. It can be particularly pleasant done on your abdomen.
  • Acupuncture and advice about food, and possibly herbs, very often improves digestion and Blood. For more, see Nutrition.
  • Counselling, or talking to an understanding friend, can often allay anxieties. (But don’t become too reliant on them for support! Friends have their problems too.)


Pain from Nervous Stomach Anxiety

Why Does My Stomach Hurt?

Eventually, if you do nothing about it and the cause continues, you’ll start to get pain, which might – from your Western Doctor’s point of view – be caused by a number of conditions, some serious, particularly if they start suddenly.

From the Chinese point of view, acute pain is nearly always a sign of excess of Yang, and treatment would at first be to soothe this. There are many things an acupuncturist can do about Excess Yang.

But if the pain is milder or more chronic it may (also) be from deficient Yin. So this would be looked at as well. Bear in mind, that if deficient Yin is the cause, it can take longer to get better, because your body has to be helped to become more resilient, having been ‘worn down’ by problems over a long period. (Not to confuse you, but if the pain is generally better for warmth and pressure, it’s more likely to be due to deficiency. On the other hand, if worse for warmth and pressure, it may be due to excess yin. For more on this important distinction, see excess or deficient).

You may also have to confront the situation that causes your anxiety.

Always the aim is to balance Yin and Yang.

Other pages you may like to read:

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