When the stomach bug makes you anxious…


(This is what the virus that causes most stomach bugs looks like. Fairly innocent and innocuous until it hits your system and makes you ill!)

No one likes the stomach bug. No one enjoys when it lurches it’s nasty way into your system, and makes you ill, and spreads to your family. It’s unpleasant, and inconvenient, and makes you and your family feel unwell. I don’t think anyone would say “yay, I love it when my family gets a stomach virus!”. If they do, then they are very strange.

One of my anxiety triggers is health related matters, usually those around my family. Being a former nurse, with a fair amount of medical knowledge, does not help. I know too much, and I have seen some things, in my career, that mean my mind can work overtime, when it comes to symptoms. When something simple presents itself, I can let my mind wander into the realms of what dreadful things it could be, in terms of diagnosis. This is an area that I have been aware of for a long while, and I am working though, and I have had CBT Therapy. It’s a work in progress. It is not easy to retrain your mind and get control of your thoughts once you start to head down that rabbit hole….

Stomach bugs, are one of my worst anxiety triggers. I have no idea why. They are part of life, rarely fatal, if the person is looked after properly,  and to be honest, whilst dealing with the products of stomach bugs isn’t my favourite thing, I am not that bothered by it. It’s just the whole thing, the prospect of the stomach bug, sick children, diarrhoea, cleaning, trying to stop the bug from spreading, time off school, work, staying home until we are not contagious, (which I am very strict about) that makes me so anxious and I become stressed and unhappy. I know most parents probably aren’t leaping about with delight when they are dealing with stomach bugs in their households, or themselves, but I really do react badly.

If I hear mention that someone we know has a stomach bug, I mentally count the days since we last saw them, and will go out of my way to avoid contact with them, until they are well and truly gone. If I happen to hear there is a sick bug going round school, I remind my children to wash their hands, and make sure they don’t put things in their mouths, if they can help it. I have actually been known to cancel social arrangements, when a sickness bug is doing the rounds, rather than risk exposure. I have a special “sick clean kit”, which is a box of wipes, bleach (which is the only thing that properly kills the viruses and bacteria that spread the stomach bug, in it’s many forms) rubber gloves, extra washing powder and other bits and pieces for when a stomach bug invades, so I am prepared. I hate winter time, which is when stomach bugs seem to manifest their ugly presence, and I avoid  busy, public, soft play areas like the plague, because I am convinced that’s where they spread most. When I was asked if I would like a ball pond in our soft play area at work, I vehemently refused, due what I learned on an infection control day during my nursing days about what germs linger in public ball ponds. I might look calm, when sympathetically nodding at someone telling me they have a stomach lurgy, but inside I am mentally counting the seconds until I can run away, wash my hands and then not go near them again!

Sad, I know. Silly, I know. It bothers me, it’s not easy to put it out of my head. Sick bugs make me anxious.

When I came down with a stomach bug, or food poisoning, last week, all the usual feelings and anxieties started to surface. Instead of looking after myself and dragging myself back to bed, I was wielding a cloth and bleach, cleaning surfaces, and our bathroom, determined to stop it spreading. I spend the whole time I was recovering trying to minimise contact with the children, refused to go anywhere near the kitchen or do any food prep, so as to minimise passing on whatever it was that was violently working it’s way through my system. Thankfully the husband makes a far better nurse than me, and was sympathetic, and took the reins and looked after the children and the house, and  let me be, but itis hard for him, too, because when I am anxious, I get snappy and irritable. My hands are dry and sore, from washing them, so many times, to keep germs at bay.

It’s not a fun place to be, dealing with a stomach bug and your mind going haywire. It’s hard to explain, and like many aspects of anxiety, doesn’t seem logical to someone who hasn’t struggled with issues around anxiety. I HATE it. I hate feeling like I HAVE to overreact to protect my family. I hate feeling like a huge crisis is hitting, because we have caught a stomach bug.

Along with a diagnosis of anxiety, I also have emetophobia. The fear of being sick. Probably because I spent two pregnancies being very very sick. I now have an over active gag reflex, and a lot of things trigger feelings of nausea and panic. 

As a parent, you have to deal with stomach bugs, as someone who works with children, puking can happen and you can’t just run away. 

As an ex nurse, who isn’t phased by blood, human waste, horrible and gruesome medical conditions, gory surgery, and the general grossness of the human body, when it decides to go wrong, it’s hard for me to admit that people being sick, cleaning up sick, the idea of a sickness bug, and it’s impact, reduces me to a shaking mess. It has been helpful to know I am not alone though, I know many people who feel the same.

Stomach bugs are horrible. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way to stop them happening, I would love to never have to be anxious about them again!



Posted in Family Life and Parenting, Health, Mental Health and tagged Anxiety, anxiety triggers, emetophobia, mental-health, rota virus, stomach bug.


  1. Wow! I can’t imagine trying to deal with the anxiety as well as the actual stomach bug. I have to say that, touch wood, we tend to be quite lucky and don’t get many stomach bugs, and when we do they’re not even 24 hour ones. Colds and coughs, however, that’s another story entirely! Hope the bug goes soon and your house doesn’t get another one for a very long time.

  2. No Sad, Not Silly – it’s just the way you are. A huge part of the healing comes from accepting and acknowledging your feelings without judgment. If your child, best friend or husband suffered in this way would you call them sad and silly? Of course not, so be the friend to yourself that you are to others…

    I have panic attacks and generalised anxiety (nothing to do with stomach bugs, but all the same mental health stuff) and had a year of CBT – it was wonderful, life changing. I still have the symptoms, but CBT gives me a great tool to get through the really challenging times. I still use it to this day, it just helps take the raw edge off stuff, changes my perception and give me back a ‘reality check’.
    I hope it works well for you – it’s not an overnight fix, so stick with it πŸ™‚


  3. This is exactly how I feel. The funny thing is, I have no other anxiety, but when it comes to stomach bugs, I am absolutely irrational. It was amazing to see my experience being described so accurately. Thank you for sharing!

  4. It is as if I wrote this myself. I live in fear every single day. I have lined wastebaskets near kids beds, and I wake several times a night thinking that I can hear somebody possibly getting sick. I stress about the food they eat, where we go, who touches what & also avoid people who recently had it like the plague. I have no idea how to control it. Its an awful feeling. I can’t be rational about the stomach bug. colds & flu don’t scare me…apparently, just vomit πŸ™

  5. OMG! Karen I am exactly the same as you and I mean that. I have felt such a failure and a freak. My obsession with the stomach bug leads my normal everyday, happy life into one of irrational torment. Thank you for bringing out into the open something that affects so many of us, but yet leaves us unable to explain so eloquently.

  6. I caught a stomach bug 2 weeks ago today. I only got sick twice, but was nauseated for a bit after. I ended up making myself super anxious about eating. In the aspect of getting sick after I eat. I still am fighting this issue. It has not been a fun road to go on, and it definitely keeps me from doing things I used to enjoy doing. Thank you for posting this and reminding me that I am not alone or is the only one with this mindset. I guess my fear of throwing up was far worse than I thought it was. I hate dealing with this daily. I focus too much on eating that I don’t even enjoy my meals at times. I should be happy and thankful that I am able to eat and keep the food down. It’s just a bug and I am sure this is not going to be the last time I will get it. Just staying as strong in my faith as I can, and letting the Lord guide me. I am not sure if I need to get in contact with someone and go talk to a psychiatrist since it has been two weeks or what? This is ridiculous how my mind plays tricks on me. No bueno! πŸ™

  7. Wow it feels like this was written by me! I’m the same exact way. I’m currently going through it. Its so hard. I just want to cry.

  8. Hi , reading your blog makes me feel like I am not the only one with these fears. I have sickness bugs had always been my main annxiety triggger, I obsess & it frustrates me so much. I am due my first child and getting really concerned that my fear will effect the me even more .. I was wondering what I can do to help myself. May I ask how you feel the therapy worked for you? I have never talked about my problem or been to the doctors but I think that now might be the time.

    Thank you in advance for ny advice x

  9. This is exactly how I feel! I am a teacher and constantly at risk of getting the virus! It keeps me up so many nights! I don’t know what to do! The fear of getting the bugs is making so anxious and unwell, it’s like a viscous cycle! I’m particarually bad right now because a pupil I spend a lot of time with is off with the virus, this terrifies me that I’m next!!!! What on earth do I do!

  10. I am the same way except when I have the flu and my anxiety attacks turn into pure panic so does IBS and I get dehydrated and usually send myself to the ER (( which does nothing except give me fluids but some how mentally makes me feel bette) I hate it I hate it I hate being this way. I think it creates a barrier between being able to be loving and care for my children in that anxietied state.

  11. I am the exact same but with my kids my daughter is 4 and is in preschool and hasn’t caught a bug as of yet but I know it’s coming and I get so anxious about her getting them as I don’t know how she will react to it and I have just had another baby and I am terrified that he will catch everything she catches he is only two weeks old so that’s why I get so nervous about him getting anything.My daughter is a very healthy child when she gets sick it’s only ever a few days but she always has to sleep in our bed when she’s not feeling well even just a little cold and she’ll want to be in our bed, is there any way to just relax myself about the fact she will get a bug and it’ll be fine and she’ll get over it or is there any type of therapy I could do to help this

  12. I seriously have this same fear! I don’t feel like I can live my life to the fullest because I am always terrified someone is going to get sick. I literally feel like I am going to pass out if I see or hear someone throwing up.
    My child has been going to daycare for a little over a year now and I am constantly terrified he is going to come home with the stomach bug. The thing is he has already had it once and I got through it and no one else got sick. But now I am in constant worry that it is going to happen again and be worse. Any time he does the same things he did before he got sick the first time I start to panic and ask him if his stomach hurts. I feel like I am going to turn him into a crazy person like me and have the same fear. I definitely don’t want that, I don’t want him to live with this fear. But I just can’t help but worry. I don’t know what to do and I am searching online for help. I worry each night we lay down that someone is going to get up in the middle of the night and be sick. I worry so much I make myself nauseous. I am getting to the point that I am not enjoying my time with my child because I have that fear in my mind 24/7. I absolutely HATE winter time because it seems to be the time when you hear about the stomach bug hitting people like crazy. Can someone PLEASE help me, I begging you!

    • Please go and talk to your doctor. They will listen and not judge. You might need medication initially but ask about CBT. Take care

  13. This is very familiar to me. Something I think I’ve had maybe from childhood. I am thinking about CBT for this as it is terrible, emotionally draining for you and those close to you. It’s a comfort to know there are other people out there that feel the same – although you don’t want anyone to feel this way. Thank you.

  14. I’m a college student going through this fear right now. I have no idea what to do. It’s keeping me from writing a paper, from sleeping, from eating. I’m so anxious. I feel like a failure.

    I get so upset when I think about the fact that I would be so scared of getting this illness. I would have to deal with it on my own, and I don’t feel that I’m capable. It’s terrifying.

    I just want to feel less worry.

  15. This is how I am all the time with my children my dd is currently poorly with one and I’m sitting on the stairs in a panick as I’m convinced / worried to death I’m getting it and the rest of us will ! Even though o have cleaned everywhere I am so scared of it it’s unreal 😭

  16. This is exactly how I feel too. I’m desperate not to and it impacts on my life all the time. Sure it makes me a much worse mummy 😒

  17. This could of been written by me. This is exactly how I feel and I just wish I could stop the anxious thoughts and panick.
    My daughter is in nursery and every time there is sickness on the board I spend the next few days so anxious about her catching it and then me catching it or me catching it just from touching stuff in the nursery. She starts school in September and I can’t imagine how I am going to be then.
    Colds etc don’t bother me it is just sickness bugs.

  18. I can completely relate to your phobia. I have a family of my own now, being myself, my significant other, and my four and eight year old (who are both sick at the moment, prompting me to locate others with my phobia). I believe the gastrointestinal viruses can affect certain people more severely, or it certainly seems that way. Having no other phobias, it’s always been unusual to me when others do not worry about this illness as much as myself and my family growing up. Compared to say, arachnophobia, these virus strains much more threatening objectively speaking. *Arms self with clorox*

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