***Trigger Warning: This blog post mentions emetophobia, anxiety and mental health, sickness, vomiting, nausea and eating disorders. Read at your own risk!***
Please also note: I am not, nor am I affiliated with, a medical or mental health professional specializing in the topics mentioned in this post! I have gathered any and all information from the Internet and my own experiences dealing with emetophobia. I have also linked a few resources down below for anyone possibly dealing with symptoms of emetophobia!
” It is a condition that is not widely diagnosed even though it is a fairly prevalent anxiety disorder. “ — Anxiety UK
What It Is
You might have just read that title and are asking yourself, “What on earth is emetophobia?” I’m not blaming you if you are! Not many people even know it’s a phobia to begin with, even though it’s apparently one of the most common in the world — yep, it’s even right up there with ones like arachnophobia (the fear of spiders) and acrophobia (the fear of heights). To put it as simply as possible, emetophobia is the fear of vomit — and everything relating to it. This includes the actual bodily fluid, the action of being sick, seeing others be sick, feeling nauseated, etc.
While many people haven’t heard of it before, and while some would even question whether it’s a legitimate fear, more people suffer from emetophobia than you might think. Unfortunately, and much to my dismay, I am one of those people. Not to sound dramatic or anything, but it’s true. I’ve been suffering with the phobia for a few years now, even though I only put a name to what I’ve been feeling rather recently. Which is crazy, because according to Anxiety UK, around 6-7% of females suffer from it!
Ever since I was young, stomach viruses have been the absolute worst kind of seasonal sickness for me — I think most people would say the same. But growing up, I was never afraid of it beforehand. Maybe five minutes before, sure. But I generally wasn’t too frightened unless I truly felt ill. If someone I knew was sick, I suppose I avoided it as much as anyone — but that’s just common sense! Now, however, it’s a lot worse, which doesn’t even really make sense to me; I’m eighteen, definitely not a child anymore, and I’m absolutely terrified of vomiting.
My Experience with Emetophobia
When you think of phobias, you might imagine the more justified kind, like a fear of heights or needles or clowns. For most people, those fears don’t actually affect them until they’re faced with situations involving those things. And that’s totally reasonable. If you were scared of clowns and went to a children’s birthday party and saw one, it would probably be rational to scream and run away. You probably wouldn’t be judged for such a reaction. But if you avoided birthday parties at all costs because of the slightest chance of encountering a red-nosed, white-faced guy with enormous shoes… Then people might start to think something’s up.
The latter is kind of what emetophobia is like for me. In most cases, emetophobes experience an overwhelming sense of anxiety because of the fear. And in most cases, it’s completely irrational. For many people suffering with the phobia, the anxiety and worry that comes with it is debilitating, frustrating, and often has a controlling effect on their daily lives. With that said, what everyone experiences is unique to themselves, so generalizing won’t really do much good. However, while people’s experiences differ greatly, various symptoms of emetophobia are shared by many.
Many of these symptoms, some of which I myself experience, include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Nausea and digestive upsets
- Feeling the need to check your temperature (and therefore if you’re unwell)
- Intense anxiety/worry
- The incessant need to carry around items such as antacids, a paper bag, peppermints or chewing gum, etc.
- Frequent avoidance of public places and transport (Some emetophobes also suffer from agoraphobia, in which case they can sometimes avoid going out altogether.)
- Avoidance of taking prescribed medication, being put under during an operation, etc. for fear of vomiting
- Restricting your diet and under-eating (can be associated with ARFID or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder — I have also linked resources for this below, as it is a very serious disorder and should be treated immediately!)
Personally, I also tend to frequently wash my hands, and I try to avoid catching a virus from public places like it’s the plague! I even have to close my eyes and plug my ears if I’m watching a movie and one of the characters is sick (Matt Brody in Baywatch, I’m looking at you!)
In its stripped-down form, emetophobia is essentially an anxiety disorder. Because of this, I tend to feel panicky even when I don’t feel ill. Even when I know in myself that I haven’t caught a bug, or at least that it’s highly unlikely, the idea of throwing up scares me so much that I get myself into a state about it — and quite frequently, too. And in the end, it always boils down to the exceedingly cheeky and intrusive what if.
Whenever I have to do something important, or if there’s some big milestone in my life, I generally get a massive wave of dread and anxiety that washes over me. Take prom and my high school graduation, for example. Both happened this year, and weeks before either of them did, I was jittery and nervous, almost dreading both events to the point where I wondered if I could back out. Prom? Maybe, but it would have wasted all the money spent. Graduation? Not really, because it’s…well…graduation. So in that way, the latter was probably worse, and therefore my anxiety was. Now, I’ve always been susceptible to nerves and getting panicked about things, because that’s just the way I’m wired. I’m not really a go with the flow type of gal. So add emetophobia right on top of the pile, and I’m a total nervous wreck!
I’m not sure what it is that started this fear initially. It might have been the last time I got a stomach bug, or it might not. I honestly don’t know. I can’t really remember an especially traumatic experience that could have kickstarted it. All I know, and all that truly matters, is what’s happened because of it. To say the very least, the fear is all-consuming, overwhelming, and ultimately awful. I think about it all the time. I worry constantly. Every time I get the tiniest tummy ache, I think, “What if this is it? What if this is the day I’m sick?” And it’s honestly one of the hardest, most frustrating things I’ve ever had to go through.
Up until this fear started to present itself, I considered myself an overall very happy and optimistic person. For the most part, I still do. But dealing with the anxiety and stress that come with it, and how controlling it can sometimes be over my life, I feel like I’ve been slightly more unhappy and pessimistic than normal over the past year or so. The worst part about this fear is the fact that it’s so irrational and so totally stupid. I’ve told my mum about it and she agrees that it is completely irrational. The thing is, I know. I know how irrational it is, and that there’s actually a very slim chance that I will be sick. I tell myself this over and over, and yet it doesn’t do much to help.
Every time I go somewhere, I immediately locate the exits and/or bathrooms, in case I have to make a run for it. I hate being forced into spaces with large crowds because of it, such as to see plays in theatres, concerts in stadiums, assemblies at schools — you name it, I probably hate it. (It should also be noted that part of the worry comes from the embarrassment of people seeing me be sick in public.) I do my best to make sure I have mints and/or chewing gum with me everywhere I go, because after reading once that the minty flavor can take your mind off feeling sick / helps with nausea, I haven’t been able to part with them since.
For a while, I wondered if anyone felt the same way or experienced these same things. And after looking much deeper into it, I found that they have. I cannot tell you how relieved I was that I wasn’t totally alone with this fear, and that if I needed it, there were support groups and people I could talk to who would understand. There still are — for me, for you, for anyone you know who might be dealing with emetophobia.
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom! I want to end this on a strictly positive note! With high school ending and the summer looming upon me, and with more time to myself, I’ve used a lot of it to think about my well-being and what’s been going on. I’ve used this time to connect with my thoughts and feelings and to not push this away anymore. It’s time to stop letting it control my daily life. It’s time to take my fear’s power away. It’s time to find my own power within myself to overcome it, because I know for a fact that I’m strong enough — and so are you, with whatever it is you might be facing, emetophobia or not.
Eventually, and hopefully sooner rather than later, I’ll get proper guidance. I’m open to the idea of receiving professional help from therapy, and perhaps even anxiety medication if need be (unless it’s the kind that makes you nauseous, of course!). I’ve stopped denying it to myself, and if you’re doing the same as I was — brushing it off, acting like it’s not a big deal, refusing to get the help you might need — then you should stop too. Do what will ultimately help you in the long run, even if it means accepting that you’re not perfect and that you will go through things in life. Even if it scares you. Even if you feel alone. Know that you aren’t. You never are — always remember that.
We can’t let our fears win, because at the end of the day, they aren’t real, tangible things. At the end of the day, they’re all conjured up. They’re like shadow puppets on the wall — they’re only small, harmless things, and they’re only as big and scary as you make them when the light disappears and the darkness creeps in. So keep on shining a light. Chase away the shadows, remember that there is a way out and that we can find it together. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. A life without fear is possible, we just have to cross a few night skies to get there.
What Helps Me:
As stated previously, I am in no way a professional when it comes to phobias, anxiety disorders, or anything of the sort, nor am I affiliated with any medical / mental health professionals. So take this all with a pinch of salt, and remember that different ways of coping help different people — not every method is for you! With that said, here are some things that help me cope/calm down when I get panicked:
- Take deep breaths. I know this sounds incredibly generic and like a track stuck on a broken record, but that’s only because it actually works! In times of panic and stress, sit down if you’re able to. Take multiple deep breaths, rather than the shallow and quick ones you might be experiencing in the moment. Some people also recommend counting to ten slowly until panic subsides.
- Drink some water. Even if you’re panicking due to emetophobia, and are worried you will be sick, take small sips of water — don’t gulp it down, as this might increase the nauseous feeling you may have. Make sure it’s cold if you can — iced water is best!
- Spray something lavender-scented in your room. Especially before bed, this works wonders! Lavender is a well known remedy for panic and stress, and it’s known to calm us down. I get my lavender spray from Whole Foods, but you can find them all over the place. I personally get quite panicked about certain things at night — some of my friends will know this! — and spraying lavender on my pillow really helps me relax. Any other scent that helps you relax works too, of course!
- Use a damp face cloth. If you don’t have one nearby, splashing cold water on your face or using a piece of cool, damp paper towel will do the trick! Dampen a wash / face cloth with cool water and wring it out until it’s not dripping wet. Wipe your face, and press it to the back of your neck, while taking deep breaths and reminding yourself that you’re going to be okay. (This is also great if it’s summertime or extremely hot wherever you are! Don’t want to get overheated!)
- Take a relaxing bath before bed. I personally don’t like taking baths, but some people say they really help. So throw in some bubble bath or a bath bomb, put on some soothing music, think positive thoughts, and let yourself chill out!
- Brush your teeth. No matter what time of day it is, it can be good to brush your teeth. For one thing, it gets the current taste out of your mouth — and dental hygiene is extremely important! Your dentist will be proud the next time you pay a visit!
- Get a bowl, fill it with cool water, and dip your face into the water. A friend recommended this to me, and I have yet to try it, but it’s supposedly very good for helping to stop hyperventilating and heart palpitations. Just make sure that the bowl is large enough for your face and make sure the water isn’t too cold. Dip your face (up to about your hairline) into the cool water and do this for ten seconds, about three times.
- Write in a journal. Whenever I’m going through something — especially if I’m dealing with my fear and I want to take my mind off my stomach — I find that writing my feelings down in a journal can really relieve stress. I never used to like the idea, and I even found it childish and redundant. What was the point of writing something if no one was going to read it? Well, it can actually be a great way to lift some weight from your shoulders and to let go. As you write the words down on the page, imagine them leaving your body and mind. Imagine sending them away and trapping your negative thoughts within the journal, where they’ll stay locked away until you’re willing to let them free again. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a good writer — there’s a huge chance that no one will ever see what you wrote, anyway! Just write. You’ll feel better.
- Talk to someone. Whether it’s a professional who can help you out, a friend, a family member, or even someone online, talking about your problems always helps. It also makes it much easier to talk about them in the future, because it means you’ve accepted it and are willing to get help. Even if that help is just the well-deserved support of those closest to you. Start off small. Open up a bit to someone about what you’re going through. It helps lose that vulnerability, and once you’ve told one person, you don’t have to be so frightened of telling others! And who knows? They might be going through something similar!
- Keep your hope and willingness within reach, and never give up. This is the most important thing. Above all, don’t give up and don’t give in to your struggles. They are not you, they are simply one part of you. You are multifaceted, and don’t let your troubles or anyone else tell you otherwise! There is always a better option than giving up. So fight. With everything you have. There is going to be a better future for you. You just have to want it badly enough and be willing to work hard to get there. But you will in the end. I promise!
Resources for Emetophobia:
Help and Support:
- There are also many support groups on various websites as well as on Facebook, and some people have said that they’ve helped! They’re only a few clicks away on Google!
- And if you ever want to talk, my DMs on my Instagram account @annasbookishthings are ALWAYS open, and I’m always willing to lend a word of advice or a listening ear! You’re not alone in this, and talking about it will make a difference. I promise.
Resources for Eating Disorders:
Common Types of EDs:
NEDA: Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (commonly associated with emetophobia):
NEDA: Help & Support:
NEDA: Warning Signs & Symptoms:
Eating Disorder Hotlines:
- NOTE: As far as I know, these helplines pertain to the United States only, but if you believe you are suffering from an eating disorder, there are many ways to get help. Talk to a parent or someone you trust about getting help — there are countless resources, and with some guidance, you can get the support you need!
To be 100% honest, this has been hard to talk about. It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever been online, and maybe in my entire life. But a voice in the back of my head has been screaming at me to share this. It’s terrifying, I won’t lie. But finishing this post, even if I never end up publishing it for the world to see, has been such a huge breath of fresh air.
But it’s time — time to share this, my experience. It’s time to talk about it, because how else will I ever help raise awareness? It’s time to reflect and get help. It’s time to take back control of my life and to live it as well as I’ve promised to. I owe it to myself to enjoy it and have the most amazing time while I have the chance. I can’t possibly give up yet. Neither can you.