Is "vomiting from relief" a real thing?
April 8, 2020 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Several times lately I have had this experience: I try something that is scary and important to me, something that would crush me if I were to fail at it. In the lead up to the thing I get super anxious, but not so much that it overwhelms me. Then when I succeed, I am so overwhelmed with relief that I start crying and vomiting.

The crying doesn't surprise me. I'm an anxious, emotional person and crying from joy and relief isn't unusual. But the vomiting is new. I don't throw up a lot, it's mostly dry retching. But it takes hours for my stomach to settle, and the whole time my emotions are all over the place: one moment I feel joy, the next it's disgust and self-loathing, shortly after that I just feel tired. There's no pattern to the emotions it's just raw "feeling", if that makes sense. Once I settle down, everything goes back to normal and the nausea is always gone by the next day.

What it feels like to me, intuitively, is that the anxiety in the lead up to the scary event is so bad that it takes all my self-control just to hold it together. Then no matter what happens (good or bad) I fall apart afterwards because that self-control evaporates. If it's bad news I sink into depression; if it's good news I get this weird "anxious relief nausea". That would make sense to me, but I can't seem to find anything written about it - the closest I can find is the "let down" effect, when you get sick after a stressful period.

Is this a thing that other people experience?
posted by snippet to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I bet it's the adrenaline. You feel focused & self-controlled while it's rushing through your system, and then when the experience is over you experience a come-down: shakiness, heart-fluttering, nausea. It's a common symptom, though it sounds like you might be more sensitive than many.
posted by lilac girl at 7:59 PM on April 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

I have often experienced panic attack symptoms not in the moment but hours or sometimes even days after a triggering event, coinciding with me finally relaxing/letting my guard down. There’s clearly something about getting out of the immediate zone of perceived danger that opens the door to these kinds of reactions.
posted by rustcellar at 8:20 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

What rustcellar said. It's not uncommon that people will get through a traumatic experience purely on adrenaline, keeping it together, then as soon as they're on the other side the stress hits them like a freight train. (Movie spoiler:) Check out the deeply upsetting ending of Captain Phillips, where Tom Hanks has a meltdown when he's finally safe. That was all based on research into people who survived traumatic circumstances, and those are real medical techs improv-ing their lines based on how they'd treat somebody at that moment. Phillips is having a BAD TIME in that scene, and if he suddenly threw up it wouldn't be surprising at all.

It sounds like you're experiencing unhealthy and possibly dangerous levels of stress, and I think you need to address that. Are these scary but important things absolutely necessary to your life, or do they need to happen in quite this way? If they need to continue, I'd strongly suggest talking to a therapist to help you deal with this stress. Getting so stressed that you vomit isn't something a person should have to experience once in life, let alone it being a recurring thing! I'd also ask your doctor about it. I think this is probably something emotional rather than physical, but repeated bouts of emotionally-induced vomiting sounds like something you should at least mention to your doctor.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:28 PM on April 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

I call myself an "emotional barfer" — if I get kind of worked up about something somewhat sad, every once in a while I'll also barf. It's not constant, it's not a problem in my life or anything, I feel totally normal otherwise, and 99% of the time it doesn't happen, but yeah, on occasion, bodies are weird.
posted by Charity Garfein at 10:13 PM on April 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yep, normal.

Physiologically during a major crisis you do not want to be wasting any metabolic energy on digesting. So when a crisis hits suddenly sometimes people and other animals either vomit or pee themselves, or shit themselves on the spot, involuntarily. But once you are in the crisis vomiting or dealing with elimination is far too distracting and high risk so everything in that system goes on shut down, with the blood supply directed to other places. Once your system goes back on line again it all has to get restarted and that moment of restarting can trigger full abrupt and involuntary evacuation.

It's common for someone who had just done a presentation that was high stakes to need to high tail it down the hall to the bathroom too.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:14 AM on April 9, 2020

ooh this feels totally like an adrenaline thing! I get this to varying degrees with all kinds of stuff - I'll either pass out or throw up (or sometimes both!)

The first time I put in a tampon? passed out right after!

a few months ago I was biking and a car pulled up behind me, and I guess he didn't like the speed I was going, so he HONKED at me, which is incredibly loud on a bike, and it scared the shit out of me and I had to bike a bit further before I could pull over and then I almost threw up! and then when I got home I DID throw up!

One time I lied to a doctor about how long it had been since I had a PAP test so he would still refill a prescription for me, and then I threw up on the train tracks after I left.

This also makes me really shaky and the best thing to do seems to be to lay down with an audiobook or podcast on (so I don't dwell) and try to have a short nap.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:25 AM on April 9, 2020

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