by Ken Goodman, LCSW

Ken-Goodman-websize.jpgKen Goodman, LCSW, practices individual and group therapy in Los Angeles to help anxiety and OCD sufferers free themselves from debilitating fear.  He is the producer of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, a step-by-step self-help audio program. Visit his website. 

If you have a fear of vomiting, just reading the title of this article might make you a bit queasy. The mere mention of the "V word" might send you into a state of anxiety. If you can relate, I encourage you to press on despite your worry, so you can take the first steps to overcoming it.clinicalfellows.jpg

Emetophobia?

No one enjoys vomiting and everyone thinks it’s disgusting, but most people are not afraid of it. But if you suffer with this type of phobia (specifically known as emetophobia), you are not only repulsed by the idea of vomiting, you fear it. Many people say that the anticipation of vomiting is often worse than the act itself.

And because you don’t know when it will happen, you are constantly on guard, rearranging your life to ward off any possibility of puking.

What Causes Nausea?

Stomach discomfort and nausea can be caused by motion sickness, a stomach bug, food poisoning, excessive eating or drinking, food intolerance and…anxiety!

That’s right. Anxiety and worry can cause stomach discomfort and nausea. And if you don't vomit when you’re anxious…you won’t!

Treatment Works

Treating vomit phobia is best accomplished through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP). Treatment involves correcting faulty beliefs, reducing avoidance, and confronting challenging situations step-by-step. You are given tools, a new perspective, a winning mindset, and a strategy for facing your fears. Your motivation for ending your suffering is important because the therapy does take time, hard work, and courage. You must have self-discipline and determination to win. And if you do…you can beat emetophobia!

Additional Resources:

I think I have this phobia. Not very strong but I known exactly how it feels. I'd rather die than throw up, seriously. I remember being much worse when I was younger. I would freak out whenever I heard the word vomit, I would start to panick whenever I would get a stomach ache, I would try my best to avoid people who are nauseous. I would even get anxious to get on the school bus when we had to go do outdoor activities!

I'm glad it's gotten better. Though I must say it's been a while since I haven't been sick. Let me tell you one thing though.

Last year, while I was on a trip, I was starting to feel sick. I was shaking, I was really freaking out. But then I told myself. Why are you freaking out? What's the worse that could happen? You just, let it out, you'll eventually feel better. I let myself go. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn't.

I know some people won't be able to read this, but I hope that someway, you could find a way to rationalize this fear. It could make your experience less.. daunting.

Hi, thanks for sharing your story. It's amazing how one fear can affect the entire scope of your life. If you have a fear of elevators you can avoid elevators the vast majority of time, but the fear of vomiting can be much more pervasive. I like the way you respond to the fear by asking yourself, "what's the worst that can happen. If I throw up I'll feel better." Anxiety is very tricky. When you feeling nauseous you believe you will vomit even though you never do. It's similar to the person who feels dizzy and believes they will pass out even though they never do. Or the person who feels his heart race and believes he's having a heart attack but has been told by his doctors multiple times that his heart is strong. Don't be fooled.

Jennifer Shannon

Wed, 2017-03-22 17:01

Thanks Ken for this great article. Of all the phobias out there, this is the most common one I treat! I think that is because it can cause significant disruption in a person's life. You can avoid spiders to some extent, but it is very hard to avoid physical sensations like nausea, or people who might be sick, or germs! Luckily it is a very treatable phobia.

I am afraid to be around my kids. My son is school aged so im always afraid hes going to come home sick. When my kids are sick i get so panicked that i cant be around them. I worry myself to the point i get ulcers. My son is afraid to tell me he doesnt feel well. My daughter has been sick all weekend and my nerves are so shot i feel like i cant breath. I need to get through this.

Anon

Sat, 2017-04-01 09:11

In reply to by Anonymous

There are many ways to get this treated. Now if it's linked to PTSD (Which happens a lot), it may be more complicated, but whatever it is, just find a therapist that specialized in this stuff and talk it out with them, and they'll find a way to help that'll be comfortable for you.

Ashley

Mon, 2017-04-03 21:45

In reply to by Anonymous

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who gets like this. I feel like a weight in sitting on my chest. I don't want to be in my own house! My daughter is sick and she wants me but I can't even do it. I feel like a failure as a mom, it's causing me a lot of stress and anxiety and I feel like my husband doesn't understand

Dear Jennifer,
My daughter is 27 and has had this fear most of her life. Her mind is completely consumed with germs, any way to avoid this kind of sickness, to the point that she can barely go to work. She was in therapy for years and on numerous anti-depressants, with absolutely no relief. She is currently on Xanax, and has been for years. This fear is barely touched by even 4gm or more daily. It is to the point she fears she is losing her mind. I am beside myself, with helplessness. Please direct her to help.
Thank you so much.

I have the worst fear of vomit. I wake up in the night having panic attacks, my whole body shakes at the thought of throwing up. Yesterday my 5 year old son developed the sickness and upset tummy bug, he has been sleeping in my bed, thrown up in my bed, on my feet, and so close to my face I just know I'm going to get it! I couldn't sleep last night with the panic of thinking if I went to sleep I might wake up suddenly to throw up, today I can't even look at food without thinking it will come back up. As dramatic as this sounds I would rather have most things than have to go through this. Does anyone have any ideas on how to be less frightened of being sick, it literally takes over my life, if I go on a bus, a plane, a restaurant, takeaway anything. It just sits on my mind I wake up most nights feeling sick and end up in a panic!

The gold standard for all anxiety treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention. In terms of treatment of Emetophobia I'd throw some ACT "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" and Mindfulness in there as well. Find a therapist who only treats anxiety and OCD. Don't go to a therapist who is a generalist (someone who treats everything). You can tell by their website. If you can't find an anxiety specialist in your area, the next best option is Teletherapy - treatment via video conferencing with a provider in your state. Search ADAA and IOCDF websites for providers. There is one book on Emetophobia - "Living with Emetophobia." I have never read it. Good luck.

hi—
i am not only tremendously afraid of vomiting, but am also afraid of the word being said near me, or anyone that throws up. it's gotten to the point that if a kid throws up near me, or even puts their hand on their stomach, I will scream and start shaking and hyperventilating. it's pretty embarrassing and scary because it's gotten so much worse. ive of only thrown up once in my life (when I found out I was allergic to peanuts, chicken and eggs) and I was thrown up on in kindergarten. i don't know what to do with this problem as the it's consuming my life. thank you so much for this article, I hope it helps:).

Hello!
I'm so so glad more professionals are able to understand and treat emetophobia. Back in the 90's when I was a child suffering from emetophobia and anxiety disorders, my mom tried to help me but doctors wouldn't really know about the phobia to vomiting so I never had a successful therapy until I was an adult approximately 2 years ago when I was around 26 years old.

Now I can say I'm definitely much better. When I was around 10-12 years old I stopped eating completely due to strong fear of vomiting. I would think that anything I would eat I could throw it up. I lived hell, and nobody could understand me.

It does take time and effort to keep up with the treatments. I was doing great when I was working with my doctor but due to lack of funds I couldn't continue. He was nice enough to give me the tools I needed on how to proceed but I lack the will to do it sometimes on my own, but after the therapy, I don't freak out anymore at movies or shows that show people vomiting. Now if my husband feels nauseous I don't go into panic mode. Before therapy, one day he really needed to throw up, he even apologized to me before going to the bathroom and I felt so bad because obviously he didn't have to apologize so I left the house running, crying and into a complete state of panic.
Before my therapy I would feel nausea VERY VERY OFTEN, after my therapy I haven't felt it at all! it's been 2 years.

Anyway, if you are an emetophobe and you are reading this, just know that there is hope and YES we can be cured no matter how impossible it seems at this moment. I remembered getting freaked out when I was told therapy involves exposure to the feared object/situation. TRUST ME, it is not like it sounds. I was perfectly comfortable throughout the therapy and of course you don't do anything you don't want to do, but it never even got to that point.

Sorry for the long post.

Suzanne Leake

Mon, 2017-04-17 18:53

13year old granddaughter developed Emetophobia after a bout of strep with throwing up at age 10. Probably Pandas since she had all the symptoms come on at once. She avoids everything, no more school, no sleepovers, no activities without one of the grandmothers present. Her therapist thinks telling her to not to think of throwing up should help her. She obviously has not researched at all. I worry so much that her life is being ruined...I don't know what to do. She gets nausea off and on all day, mouth watering, etc. She is a beautiful child who had so much promise.

I am so glad that I found this. I have a SEVERE issues with vomit. I don't vomit and haven't in years. If I feel the sensation coming on - even to the point of the sweats or my mouth waters, I talk myself out of it. However, if I'm around someone that even brings up that they are nauseous, my heart starts beating out of my chest. I'm constantly asking them if they are ok, if they need to lie down, need water. Then I realize I'm making the situation worse and I try to just leave it alone but I still worry. I'm terrified for when I have children because if they are sick, I mentally and physically wouldn't be able to help them. I know that's terrible. This has been going on since I was a kid. Do you know what the therapy entails? I'm already anxious about thinking about having to face this fear. What a yucky thing to be plagued with, no pun intended.

I never realised there was a fear of being sick until I started getting anxiety. My family thinks I'm mad (not literally) for having a constant fear of being sick. I think about it every day and it's gotten to the point now where I'm not really that keen on going different places just in case I feel sick. I don't like being anywhere but home when I'm ill as do most people. Most of the time it's all in my head, if you keep worrying about feeling sick then you actually will be. The mind is very powerful! ive found TUMS very helpful if I sometimes feel sickish. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one that has this sort of fear! Although I wish nobody had to have this fear as it's not nice!