Why You Get Stomach Knots When You’re Nervous


Je hebt het vast weleens gehad in stressvolle situaties: het gevoel dat je maag omdraaide. Misschien was het voor je een interview had of examen moest maken, of net voor je jaarlijkse functioneringsgesprek. Van die momenten dat het helemaal niet uitkomt, maar je die knoop in je maag steeds meer voelt samentrekken.

Bovenstaande reactie illustreert perfect hoe nauw je hersenen en darmen met elkaar verbonden zijn! 

While some gentle stomach flutters can be exciting (even pleasant) before a big event, stomach knots are often just another unpleasant thing to deal with when you’re already feeling stressed. If you’re all too familiar with the heavy, twisted feeling, the Getting a Knot in Your Stomach Stress Coaching Card is for you.

In deze blog leg ik uit wat er op die momenten in je lichaam gebeurt en geef ik je drie tips om van die knoop in je buik af te komen.

What Causes A Stomach Knot?

Do your intestines genuinely move around when you’re nervous?

It’s probably a huge relief to hear that the answer is no, even though it certainly feels like it!

To understand stomach knots, it helps to know a little about your digestive systems, otherwise known as your gastrointestinal systems. This group of organs, which is responsible for metabolizing everything you eat and drink, has its own enteric (nervous) system. Your enteric nervous system can regulate digestion without conscious control.

But…what happens when you’re under stress?

When your brain detects a potential threat that it interprets as stressful, it releases fight-or-flight hormones that are picked up by the enteric nervous system. Essentially, your brain tells your body that there are more pressing issues to attend to than digestion and redirects your resources to other functions.

Instead of directing blood to your gut, your body starts to prepare itself for survival:

  • Your heart rate will increase
  • Your blood pressure rises
  • Your breathing rate quickens.

So, when you’re rehearsing your lines before that public performance or adjusting your hair before an interview, your brain is essentially redirecting blood away from your stomach to help you focus.

That’s what you feel as “a knot.”

3 Tips To Calm Your Stomach

If you picked up this coaching card, you’re probably looking for a way to get rid of unpleasant knots and feel a little more “in control” before that big event.

I picked the following exercises to help you detangle your belly as soon as you feel “knotty,” and you may find them very helpful in the short term.

Note: It’s important to know that these can help you avoid becoming nervous in the moment. If you suffer from stomach knots frequently over time, they are not a substitute for identifying your long-term stressors and reducing or dealing with them directly. Rather, they are relaxation exercises that aim to counteract nerves and tension, and which will hopefully make you feel a little better.

1. Calmness Visualization

Mental imagery can be useful when trying to relax in a stressful situation. By visualizing yourself in a calm state, you can also create a mental picture to refer back to in all kinds of anxiety-inducing scenarios.

  • Close your eyes
  • Breathe in and out gently and deeply
  • Imagine yourself calmly handling the situation that is making you nervous.

You might like to picture yourself relaxed and focused, even doing a wonderful job of what you set out to do—the more you practice, the better you will become at using visualization to unwind and manage your nervous belly.

2. Sit Up Straight

Do you ever hunch over when you feel a knot coming on? You are not alone!

We humans often react to stomach pains by making ourselves smaller, slouching forward, or rolling up into a fetal position—it’s instinctive.

One way to get rid of knots is by doing exactly the opposite: sitting upright and straightening your shoulders. Try the following steps:

  • Sit up straight and close your eyes.
  • Imagine you have a string attached to your head, and someone is pulling it upward.
  • Push your chest out while you inhale through your nose, and your shoulders will naturally go backward and down.
  • As you exhale through your mouth, it will feel like you’re blowing away all of your tension.
  • Repeat these steps, lifting your shoulders as high as you can each time you breathe in (this will require you to tense your muscles). Each time you exhale, lower and relax your shoulders once more.

3. Have A Warm Bath

A little gentle heat is a great remedy for all kinds of stomach aches, whether it’s a hot water bottle or a relaxing soak in the bath.

If your stomach is cramped up from knots, take a warm shower or bath, and the heated water will relax your muscles, easing away the pain.

Nicolien Dellensen

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist and creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence 360º’ a comprehensive concept and (360) online tool about interactive dynamics.

Cover e-book Sphere of Influence 360º Team Kit with purple color bacjground and magenta colored text

Free Team Kit E-book

Sign up for our newsletter and improve your team’s potential with the exercises in our free Team Kit e-book.