How I developed an anxiety disorder I had never even heard of, and how I now deal with it.
CW: This article discusses mental health and content that may be triggering to some readers
When I was sixteen I had a friend who was sick during a lesson. I remember how unwell she looked and how out of control she was when she was running to the toilet trying to get there before vomiting in the corridor. She must have had a stomach bug, and a few days later I was convinced I had caught it. What I didn't know until months later was that she never had a bug, she just had terrible stomach cramps. However, it was too late: by this point I had developed emetophobia.
So what is emetophobia?
Emetophobia is the extreme fear and anxiety felt around seeing people vomit and the possibility it might happen to you. For the last 5 years I have had to avoid certain social settings due to the possibility people might be sick there, such as going to bars and theme parks. I also missed huge chunks of my GCSE content because I was constantly having panic attacks in my lessons. I felt so alone.
"Having emetophobia means that you likely make significant efforts to avoid being in situations where you or someone else might throw up. You may find yourself building your days around avoiding these scenarios"
Because emetophobia isn't something that is widely talked about, I didn't know why I felt like this or where to get help. I researched my symptoms, and it was on online blogs and forums that I discovered I wasn't alone. Emetophobia only affects around 0.1% of the population, meaning help can be scarce, and finding people who can relate to you is almost impossible! My experience has been extremely isolating; even when I communicate my feelings with others, they don't understand the extent of my anxiety and usually say "well nobody likes being sick". I have always felt misunderstood and finding ways to help manage my anxiety has been a difficult process. However, after 5 years I have found the methods that benefit me the most, and I now feel like I have more control over my emetophobia.
What are some common symptoms of emetophobia?
As emetophobia is an anxiety disorder, the most common symptom is panic attacks. Personally, my brain tricks my stomach into feeling unwell all the time so I avoid certain foods and only drink alcohol in small amounts to avoid feeling nauseous. For some people, this can lead to eating disorders and unhealthy habits surrounding food. People with emetophobia may also avoid GPs and hospitals, due to the risk of catching an illness, and young people struggle to attend school and university. Whatever symptoms you may suffer from, the most important thing to do is experiment and see which methods help you manage your emetophobia the most.
"Even if your well-being may suffer when the world is chaotic, having a solid foundation will assist you to get through this with fewer negative consequences, less dramatic declines, and a quicker return to stability."
Methods I find the most useful
As someone who has suffered from emetophobia for 5 years, I have tried every trick in the book to avoid feeling nauseous and calm myself down during a panic attack. These may not work for everyone, so it's important to figure out what YOU find the most helpful. I've written a list below of some simple methods I use but this is not the be-all and end-all. Everybody is different so if none of these methods help you, don't worry! There is plenty more out there that might suit you better!
I always carry mints and water with me to settle my stomach, especially after a meal. The soft burning sensation distracts me from feeling sick, and it feels like the minty taste is cleaning my stomach.
I carry an emergency panic kit with me everywhere I go. This includes Rescue Remedy sweets, Kalms, Ibuprofen, and hand sanitiser. This is something I strongly recommend - you can put whatever you like in it! The point is to make you feel more relaxed when you're out in public, so whatever brings you comfort- pop it in your bag!
I downloaded the Finch app, which has 'SOS Services' to help you during panic attacks. This teaches you methods such as box breathing and the rainbow method. There are hundreds of apps similar to this, so why not download a couple and test them out!
Make sure you have someone to talk to when you need it. If you can feel yourself struggling, the best thing you can do is call up someone important to you for a chat, or even meet up for a couple of hours. You should always surround yourself with positive, supportive people. It really does make a difference!
As someone who experiences a lot of cramps and bloating, I tested which foods upset my stomach regularly, and try to cut them out of my diet. Through this I discovered I am lactose intolerant, which was why I always bloated and felt incredibly nauseous after consuming dairy. This discovery has eased my anxiety, especially when I go out for a meal, as I now know which foods to avoid, and now feel way more confident eating in public.
These are just a few ways I keep my emetophobia under control, but of course there is so much more out there you can try! The important thing to remember is that you are unique so what might help one person may not help the next.
I hope this has given you some insight into an anxiety disorder you may not have heard of, or even helped you if you are suffering from emetophobia. If you are still struggling, services such as Mind are available, or you can contact your GP or try out therapy! There is always help out there; don't suffer alone!
Samaritans helpline: 0808 164 0123
SANEline helpline: 0300 304 7000
Shout helpline: 85258