To many people, the fear of throwing up sounds like a strange thing at first. However, it’s ranked as one of the most common phobias in the United States and known among medical experts as emetophobia. Millions of people are suffering from this condition, that can have a serious negative impact on a person’s life.
Nonetheless, many people search in vain for an effective emetophobia treatment.
Different people are afraid of different things: some are afraid of throwing up themselves, some are afraid that others might throw up.
Even the sound of hearing another person throw up might cause panic-like states of fear in them.
Psychologists believe that an intense fear of vomiting is often caused by very negative past experiences, where an individual has gone through extreme states of fear and nausea, and thus the brain formed an unconscious connection between these two states. This kind of association is a very common neurological mechanism.
To people who aren’t familiar with this phobia, it might seem like a rather harmless and curious fear. But it can have a debilitating effect on people’s lives. Some people do everything to avoid any situation that could lead to nausea. They avoid bus rides, flights, getting on a boat, parties, foods that might cause an upset stomach. Women sometimes avoid getting pregnant because they are afraid of morning sickness, and sometimes take (harmful) medication to suppress their period.
Some patients are also obsessively worried about bacteria, germs and the possibility of catching an infection or getting sick. For the same reason, some people don’t eat out at all – they have to prepare all their foods by themselves. Others avoid being around children, because they’re afraid that the children might throw up.
As strange as this may sound: but being afraid of throwing up can actually ruin your relationship, your friendships, your professional and private life.
There are now different treatment approaches to help people get over emetophobia:
The classical approach is psychotherapists refer to as exposure treatment. It’s basically a form of desensitization, where a person with a phobia of vomiting is repeatedly exposed to pictures and videos of vomiting people in order to gradually make them feel more at easy with the situation.
However, the effectiveness of this kind of therapy as it pertains to the fear of throwing up is disputed, and some experiences seem to indicate that it might actually worsen the fear for some patients.
Although some patients won’t take drugs because they are afraid that they can make them feel sick and nauseous, others might resort to taking anxiety medication and antidepressants.
However, there is no particular emetophobia medication, and the side-effects of taking these kinds of drugs include such things as blurred thinking, depression, confusion, slowing down or reflexes (clumsiness), forgetfulness, lack of energy, and in some cases mania, hallucinations, hostility and rage.
An alternative approach is called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), where certain kinds of “energy points” (like in acupuncture) are activated. It seems to work for some people very well and not for others.
Hypnosis is still one of the most effective ways to overcome the fear of throwing up, because you can use it to directly communicate with your subconscious mind. It’s in your subconscious mind where the connection between intense fear and vomiting has been established. Instead of fear, you can thus tell your subconscious mind that vomiting is an unpleasant, but not threatening experience.
You won’t be afraid of vomit anymore and be able to comfortably do all the things that you might dread or avoid right now because they could lead to nausea.
I want to share a story with you of a guy who had emotophobia, just so you can have an idea what it’s like. I’m not going to use his real name, so let’s just call him Bill.
Bill was completely comfortable when he was at home – no problem at all. But when we left home, pretty much any unpleasant sensation in his stomach area was causing him to tighten up and get scared.
He started to worry about vomiting even when he didn’t feel nauseous – just feeling hungry was enough to start his vomiting anxiety.
Bills hands got sweaty and cold, his breathing changes, he started to feel nauseous.
He always carried a plastic bag with him (just in case), and every room he entered he always checked where the wastebasket was, and how far it was to the bathroom. You know, just in case he’d throw up.
This would have been kind of a weird behavior for most people – but it was even more weird for Bill, because he actually hadn’t vomited in years. But every day he felt that he was about to throw up, everyday he was scared of it and worried about it.
He wanted to know how to overcome the fear of throwing up. So he looked online, and one of the things he found was a very simple method he could try out at home.
Whenever he started to feel anxious about vomiting, he would take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write down what went through his mind, how he felt, the things he thought about and images he saw in front of his mental eye.
In some way it seemed to soothen his anxiety sometimes, but it wasn’t a sure system.
He also looked at some videos on YouTube of people vomiting. He found it repulsive, but he had read that therapists use this method sometimes, and when he did a search on youtube for vomiting he found there was (strangely) no shortage of videos of people puking.
But that didn’t help, in fact, it seemed to make things a bit worse if anything.
When he first tried hypnosis, he didn’t think it would work. After his first session he felt relaxed, but he felt relaxed when watching TV too, and that didn’t help.
But he did one hypnosis session a day for a couple of days, and he noticed that his vomiting anxiety was somehow getting less… Funny enough, he still thought of it as a random thing, but he kept listening to the hypnosis for fear of throwing up daily and found that it has helped him ever since.