Is the Fear of Throwing Up Ruining Your Life?

I hate throwing up more than anything in the world. It’s hands-down my biggest fear, something I have long battled.

And I’m not alone, it appears. Last week my daughter sent me a link to an article that said the secret to not throwing up was drinking lots of grape juice. The enlightening part of the article was not the grape juice part (although, believe me, I tucked that gem away), but the comments following. Woman after woman confessed that they, like the author of the article, also had a horrible fear of throwing up. They each told their stories, but all their stories were the same: They avoided people who had been sick. They freaked out whenever their own children got sick. Stomach flu in the house was terrifying. The lengths they admitted going to to avoid getting sick were extreme, the fear is that real. One researcher had a website dedicated to the cause. Others offer five-day e-courses that offer ‘cures.’

What it is that makes a person so fearful of a natural body function that they are willing to upend their lives to avoid it? What is going on under the surface that drives this phobia (yes, it’s a recognized phobia called emetophobia)?

It’s different for everyone. I never had this fear until the first time my daughter threw up. Waking up to her coughing and gagging and finding her mess in the crib simply terrified me. From that moment on, I had to sleep with a pillow over my head, so afraid I was of hearing her get sick. A few years later, a bad bug went through the house and another daughter vomited 25 times. That added to my fears, as I watched her dehydrate before my eyes. Before I knew it, I was going to great lengths to avoid my children catching this sickness. Cloroxing door handles after other children came over. Vigilant hand washing. Germ-X in all the cars.

Having struggled with this fear for almost two decades, and having coached women with the same fear, I want to share some of my discoveries about this subject:

1. Identify the fear

Ask yourself what you are really afraid of? The mess? The miserable children? Feeling terrible yourself? Isolating which part of the illness makes the fear seem smaller. One of the things I fear is the huge amount of effort I feel I have to spend keeping the house spotless when the kids are sick. Knowing I have to pull out the paper towels, empty trashcans, set up one ‘violated’ sink to rinse things in, keep other kids away from the sickie, washing doorknobs and toilet handles makes me hate the sickness more than, say, a head cold, where I do none of these things. Identifying this piece of the fear puzzle helped me decide to not go overboard if someone gets ill. Surprisingly, we are no sicker than when I was going to Herculean efforts to keep the house germ-free.

2.  Toy with the worst case scenario

Okay, so you hate throwing up. You hate your kids throwing up. But what’s the worst that can happen? Let’s say it’s the eve of a long-awaited trip and the kids get sick. What’s the worst that could happen? You would have to reschedule. Say it’s Christmas Eve. Celebrate a couple of days later. What if you are up all night for a week? Take naps. Plus, our bodies have a way of fitting sleep in, even if it’s interrupted sleep. What if your house is a mess? Give yourself two weeks to recover and pull things back together. What if your child vomits in the car? Keep a plastic cup in the cup holder for times they get ‘that’ look. Whatever your worst case scenario is, play it out to its worst conclusion and figure out how to deal with it. Most likely, the fear diminishes when brought to its logical end.

3.  Accept the inevitability

We will get sick. Repeat that. It WILL happen. Fighting it is like trying to keep the sun from coming up in the morning. So, if you know it’s going to happen…

4. Plan

Prepare an emergency kit with everything you need when the flu hits and put it in your linen closet. Ginger ale, paper towels, saltine crackers, small buckets, whatever. Being prepared has a way of minimizing the trauma.

5. Turn your focus from panicking to comforting

Sick kids need their mamas. From what I’ve read, some moms (including myself) panic so badly that they can’t offer consolation to their sick children. Some won’t even go near them when they are sick. But they need us terribly when they feel bad. By focusing more on their comfort than our fears, our fears lose some of their heft. Make beds cozy. Turn on a good movie. Hum a cheerful song. Who knows? Comforting them may comfort you, too.

6. Recognize ‘control’ is the culprit

One thing I’ve noticed about each and every emetrophobiac is that they are control freaks. The relaxed Type-B’s in my house don’t mind the sickness a tenth as much as the Type-A’s. Vomiting is the antithesis of control. It’s one thing we cannot will away (although, believe me, I try). Think about it. Controllers have greater fear of flying for the same reason-they aren’t in control. Babies get sick and roll with the punches. Controllers get sick and try to think through and figure out the next twenty-four hours blow by blow (no pun intended). “Okay, so this part should last only eight hours, then I’ll move on to the sweats and body aches. After that will be the desperate thirst followed by joint pain. Then…” We make it so big, it’s no wonder we dread it like the Plague. While there are some easy ways to avoid getting sick (hand washing being preventative measure #1), controlling every aspect of our children’s (and our) lives to avoid it isn’t worth it. Sooner or later, that house of cards crashes down. Do what you can and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

7. Be thankful

I’m being serious. What does sickness have to offer you? Time to rest. Time to read. The opportunity to get your house good and clean. Time to bond with your babies. Time to learn servanthood. Time to lie on the couch together and just be. Time off from other obligations. That great ‘morning after’ feeling when the sun shines brighter and food tastes oh-so-good. So don’t begrudge it. Embrace, change your attitude, and watch your phobia slink back into the shadows where he belongs.

8. It gets better

For you mamas with young children who may not know this yet, most children get sick less with age. Their immune systems build up and stomach stuff comes around less and less as the years go on. I didn’t know that when I was younger. I thought we’d have four bouts a year, every year. But, thanks be to God, it rarely hits these days. So, hang in there, okay?

***

In writing this, I am writing mainly to myself. With a couple of kids in school this year, I know we’ll be exposed to more sickness. But I also know I’m ‘sick’ to death of living in fear. Life is too short to let the fear of throwing up spoil it. What is your fear causing you to miss out on? How would being free of this fear change your life?

If you’re someone who struggles with this, as ‘the’ season gets closer, I hope you’ll find a way out of your emetophobic prison. Or at least be able to crack open a door.

I also hope you’ll add your thoughts and suggestions to this discussion and share it so others may be encouraged. Thank you…as always.

p.s. If you didn’t get enough of this subject, check out my short essay (Oh, Retch That I Am) in the new MOPS devotional, Always There.

 

  • Kellie

    I am terribly afraid of stomach viruses. My son, who has some other health issues, got sick last year and threw up for 26 straight days. He had to be hospitalized for a week. When we finally left the hospital, he was failing to thrive, had lost 8 pounds (he was only 3), and could only drink fluids. He had several more vomiting episodes requiring more needles and trips back to the hospital. It was 4 months before he was back to his original weight. The entire ordeal was awful, and I do everything to avoid a stomach illness in our home. We hand wash, drop out of “risky” activities, avoid children’s museums and indoor play areas, and I ask multiple times if a family has been vomiting recently (the last month!) before I go to their home. It was worked, and he hasn’t thrown up since. I say the fear, and the precautions are justified.

  • wholemama

    How awful. Truly, one of the worst scenarios I’ve heard of in this regard. In your situation, with a child with other health stuff going on, being uber vigilant seems crucial. For me, I know most of it is just overreacting to a common childhood illness. Precautions never hurt, but how far are we willing to go to avoid the flu? A lifetime of hiding isn’t an answer.

    • Dani

      Its terrible, I’m only 9 but I can’t leave the house without practically screaming that I’m gonna get sick. I’ve been battling this problem since I was about 3. I worry every second and this effects my every move. I used to do so many stuff as the worry wasn’t so bad. Now I can almost never leave the house. my older sister has to help me with even writing this cause I am shaking so much. Help help help I’m to scared to go out in case I throw up and because of it I’m homeschooled and have no friends. I want a best friend :(

  • Kate

    I never honestly thought that anyone else could possibly have the same fear.It is a huge comfort to me .I am terrified to throw up although I do not remember the last time I was sick!! I am in my late forties and have two small children and the problem is getting worse. I shake and feel faint and will do anything to avoid seeing my kids sick. I feel guilty about not being with them and calling my husband.I eat less to avoid perhaps feeling sick myself…anyway the list is endless.I wanted to say thank you for writing and it was a little bit of comfort

    • graham

      Hi kate im graham. i live in the uk. am so scared of vomiting that i have panic attacks. i strip off and cover myself in a cold wet towel till i shiver. it terrifies me.

      • Lola

        I do the cold towel shiver thing too Graham! Ice on the back of the neck too! The shock of the cold takes my mind off the feeling and it subsides – were a strange bunch us emets!

  • Casey

    I thought i would be the olny one with this fear…im only 12 and seeing you older people “im afraid of my kids getting sick” im like what… shouldnt you be afraid for yourself… ive had a problem with this for a whial. its just the downright feeling and the feeling of throwing up that scares me -.- ive never had it super bad i dont get sick alot which means when i do im not used to it… im glad to have read the older you get the less you get sick. i have realized that though.. you walk in a little kid class to do a play or something and there all coughing and you walk in my classroom were all chillin and trying to pay attentiion so every moment im now happy to think im less likely to get sick. I even ate less which for me wasnt usuall because i knew if i did throw up well what if theres nothing there :p at nightime i always go to sleap very very sadly every night i worry and hope i dont get sick by morning its just that feeling of being sick. i hate it but thanks i learned a few things…

  • Casey

    I thought i would be the olny one with this fear…im only 12 and seeing you older people “im afraid of my kids getting sick” im like what… shouldnt you be afraid for yourself… ive had a problem with this for a whial. its just the downright feeling and the feeling of throwing up that scares me -.- ive never had it super bad i dont get sick alot which means when i do im not used to it… im glad to have read the older you get the less you get sick. i have realized that though.. you walk in a little kid class to do a play or something and there all coughing and you walk in my classroom were all chillin and trying to pay attentiion so every moment im now happy to think im less likely to get sick. I even ate less which for me wasnt usuall because i knew if i did throw up well what if theres nothing there :p at nightime i always go to sleap very very sadly every night i worry and hope i dont get sick by morning its just that feeling of being sick. i hate it but thanks i learned a few things…

    • Lewis

      Good To See Im Not The Only Child Suffering From This -_-

  • Gaby

    I’m actually afraid to throw up in public. Whenever I’m in a restaurant I fear I will get sick there, end up vomiting in a place where people are eating, and end embarassing everyone I know.

    I have gone to great lengths to avoid it. I’m tired of being hungry outside my house, fearing the food on my plate as if it will kill me, fearing other’s reactions. I’m so tired.

    • Liv

      This is exactly my fear; getting sick in public. I will eat things and then for the next couple of hours I wonder if I’ll get sick. I sometimes have trouble going to classes because I feel slightly nauseous.

  • Chandra

    This is me to a “T”!!! Everything in there describes me!

  • candygirl

    I got chills when I read this article. I typed “Fear of Vomiting” in the Google search engine because it’s a fear I’ve been battling with for 22 years… and I’m 29 years old. I mean every word spoke to me, I was even laughing out loud and getting queasy thinking about my phobia while reading this article. I felt especially bad when I read about “being afraid to comfort your sick children when they are throwing up, watching them dehydrate before your eyes, avoiding sick people, and going through extreme lengths to avoid vomiting yourself.” I keep ginger ale, cloves, anti-acids, ”pepto” and “zofran” in my house…. I know I’m crazy. I’m just comforted to know that there are people out there who have similar issues and offer advice on how to deal with them. This article made me think back to the isolated incidents that contributed to my fear of vomit/vomiting and they were all traumatizing incidents from my CHILDHOOD! LOL, I’m a grown,married mother now so it’s time I stop trying to control what I simply cannot and get over this fear. Throwing up sucks but worrying for 22 years about it sucks even more. Thank you for writing this article. whomever you are your #awesome.

  • Rachel

    Omg I hv the same fear like when my brother vomits I have to leave the room and when he vomits in the car I start to squirm and try to get to the opposite side of the car

  • Rachel

    Hi

  • Rachel

    Will one of you boys want to fuck my freshly shaved pussy?

  • Laura

    I never knew so many others had this fear too! I’m 16, and have been terrified of vomit or anything related since I was a young child. I’ve suffered from anxiety in the past as well, had phobias of dirty water, germs and getting sick but although I’ve managed to overcome these phobias my greatest fear, vomiting, has never quite left me. Just the thought of getting a stomach bug, food poisoning etc. freaks me out and every time I feel a little queasy i start to panic and fear the worst, that maybe I ate something bad or got ill from somebody else, which is never really the case. The last time I threw up was 7 years ago, and since then I have gone to every length to try and avoid it happening, which I know will eventually hit me again in the future, and that scares me.

    • Dee1207

      I’ve had the same fear for yeeears. 16 was the worst age for it. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t cry and run away anymore lol. I think it’s possible to outgrow it. Hope you get over your fear too hunn. I am a tiny bit closer this year than last lol

  • Stef

    I’m 18 years old and I have a fear of vomiting. The last time I threw up was probably 6-7 years ago. The thing is, this fear never controlled my life until recently. I lived my life normally not worried about getting sick. If I felt sick, I’d get a little anxious but never freak out. Now however I’m having some other medical concerns and severe nausea seems to be a constant side effect. I can’t leave my house without being terrified of throwing up. I hope I can get my life back on track. Sometimes I think if I just did get sick it would help me get over the fear and get myself together again

    • Selena Marroquin

      we have the exact same fear. I was never this scared of vomiting but I, myself got sick and am terrified to go out anywhere or do anything. Its getting out of control :/

  • Lewis

    I’m Only 12 And I Feel Nauseous Just From Fear Of Being Sick. It Is LITERALLY Ruining My Life But I Only Get It When Im Going To Sleep. I Think Due To A Past Of Being Sick In The Night. But Just Reading This Calms Me. Thanks!

  • animatorguy

    I’ve had this same fear since I was about 10 years old (I’m middle-aged now) and always felt like a freak. It’s a real eye-opener to discover that I’m not the only one afflicted with this frustrating mental condition. The symptoms everyone is describing are all to familiar. But I seem to be one of the few males dealing with this. Anyone have any idea why?

  • Lisa

    As I type this, my heart is pounding in anticipation of my teenage son getting sick tonight. A stomach virus has been running through homes like wild fire and I’ve been doing everything I can to prevent it from happening. My son came home tonight and said he was exhausted and feeling nauseous. I immediately had to take Xanax…that’s how bad it is for me. I’m wide awake (it’s 12:30am) and cannot go to sleep because of the anxiety. I’m convinced it’s going to start any moment and the worst part is that I cannot do a single thing about it. It’s easier to deal with now that my kids are teens. Back when they were younger, if they got sick in the middle of the night, I would call my ex-husband to come and pick the sick one up and take him to their house because I was in the middle of a full blown panic attack. I think for me, it’s the lack of control…as a mom, you want to do whatever you can to stop the pain and the illness. With a stomach virus, nothing can be done. I am freak with the wipes and I wash my hands so much, they become flaky! It’s overkill for a situation that cannot be changed.

    I feel horrible that I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be able to go in and comfort him while he’s sick. This is my biggest fault as a mom and will probably always stick with my boys…mom bailed on us when we were throwing up. Ugh…I hate feeling this way.

    • Veronica Meier-Karnes

      I am amazed and so relieved while reading all of these posts….everyone including yours is like looking in a mirror. I am 39 years old and have battled this fear ever since I was in 3rd grade. I have not thrown up since preschool if you can imagine. This is in my thoughts daily and right now due to my daughter coming down with a virus I have been in a full on panic attack for 3 days. I have ate bearly nothing for three days now and have had horrible anxiety pains in my belly. It really helps reading everyones posts….just knowing that I am not alone really makes me feel better.

  • isa

    I shake & feel extremely anxious when someone gets ill because I’ve suffered from constant stomach conditions & distress for over a decade. I haven’t vomited for 11 years, I’m 23 years old. I still can’t manage my fear. I don’t even eat when someone is sick or feels sick, & constantly wash my hands

  • Andries

    I’m hardly ever sick. But when I am, I throw up. That wasn’t such a big problem when I was younger, but now I have a son myself. I’m honestly terrified of the thought of him throwing up. A simple cough causes me to panic and think the worst. The first thought that passes through my head when I come home from work is ‘I hope my son doesn’t throw up’. I fall asleep with the same bad thoughts. The funny thing is, he’s practically never sick. But when he does throw up (and I know he will one day, because that’s what toddlers do), my fear will grow so large that I get sick as well. At that point a feeling of incredible guilt gets over me: you’re abandoning your son because you got sick, too.

    Therapy slowly helps me understand the problem, but I still got a long way to go. Even reading this article makes my stomac turn. And yes, it IS all about control. But conditioning your mind to think otherwise, is a difficult process. I believe that at one point in time I will defeat this mental problem, but at the same time, I fear the road I have to walk to do so.

    C’est la vie.

  • Kris

    I am not as much afraid of myself throwing up as I am of other people – I say this because I haven’t thrown up for 31 years (I’m 35)….. But the idea that someone else around me could throw up sets me into full panic mode. I am currently pregnant with #2 and will be seeking some sort of therapy after this baby is born (hypnotism first, then medication if that doesn’t help!). This fear has gotten significantly worse since my first child has come home twice a year the last 3 years with a stomach virus she picked up at school. It has made me fear the entire Christmas season as she always seems to get sick in December. I think/worry about her vomiting EVERY single day. Every time I put her to bed. Everytime I pick her up from school. I have to do something….I can’t live the rest of my life like this – it’s not fair to me or my family. I know how ridiculous it is, I just want it to stop! I definitely think it’s a control issue as well – I can’t handle that the sick person cannot control themselves during that time! This definitely makes my life miserable in many aspects as I have to control everything I do and where I go :(

    • andries

      Wow, you’re story is like reading a diary of my own life and fears. It gets better if you seek therapy and talk to people about it. I don’t think it will ever go away completely, but my therapist is teaching me to accept the fear and learn to live with it. Just know that you’re not alone in this.

      Send me an e-mail if you want to talk: andriessww at gmail dot com

  • tiffany

    Thank you so much for writing this it really has helped me I have a 4 year olf and 2 year old and have almost gone to the point of homeschooling just so he won’t catch anything I know its silly but that is how much anxiety I have over it I will try all your tips and tricks thanks again

  • Tori

    I am 22 years old, and I have the worst panic attacks when I start to feel nauseated. I am so afraid of being sick myself. I have not been sick in a long time, but every night I lay awake praying someone I live with doesn’t get sick. I can not be in the same house with someone who is sick, so I’m constantly on my toes ready to leave and find someone to stay with. This fear has total control of my life. I worry about it all day, everyday. My parents, and fiance think I’m being childish. I’m crying right now while writing this because I didn’t think anyone could relate. I want kids in the future, but I have even thought about not having any so I could avoid a child being sick!! I don’t want to run and hide anymore, and I’m tired of everyone rolling their eyes at me when my panic attacks happen. I would love to seek help, but I’m 22 and broke. So I won’t be seeing a therapist for a while.

  • AES

    I am 43 and have suffered from this for years. It affects every part of my life. I don’t like to be close to my niece or nephews for fear of them being sick; I have “safe” foods and will only eat certain things away from my home; I don’t like to be in crowds of people; I don’t drink alcohol; I don’t have kids. The list goes on and on. I got married a couple of years ago (much to my surprise because now I worry about him getting sick) and my fear has increased. My husband is also afraid of getting sick – not because he has the fear, but because he’s afraid of how I will react. He’s afraid I will not be there for him if he ever needs me when he’s sick. We live in a condo with only one bathroom and not a lot of room to “get away”. I’ve tried everything, therapy, hypnotherapy, Reiki, aromatherapy, acupuncture, etc. Nothing has worked. I am always searching for the answer and it’s comforting to know that there are others out there like me. Good luck to us all in overcoming our fears!

  • Veronica Meier-Karnes

    I am amazed and so relieved while reading all of these posts….everyones post is like looking in a mirror. I am 39 years old and have battled this fear ever since I was in 3rd grade. I have not thrown up since preschool if you can imagine. Being the mother of 3 small children has become very overwhelming for me in regards to this fear. This is in my thoughts daily and right now due to my daughter coming down with a stomach virus I have been in a full on panic attack for 3 days. I have not really eatten anything for three days now and have had horrible anxiety pains in my belly. It really helps reading everyones posts….just knowing that I am not alone really makes me feel better.

  • Boo

    I’m thirteen and I HATE throwing up. The last time I threw up was when I was in third grade. I think the thing that scares me the most is the inhuman sound that you make and the fact that you’re squirting junk out of both ends. I also reeeeeeaaaaally hate the feeling of throwing up. My dad had food poisoning on my birthday last year and just the noise of pain he was making made me feel sick. My family has gotten the stomach bug every single winter around Christmas and Thanksgiving until we became vegetarians. That only lasted for about a year and now it’s Christmas break and everyone has gotten sick with the stomach bug except for my sister and me. I am trying so hard to accept the fact that I’m probably going to get it, but it’s really difficult for me. Each of my brothers caught it and it only lasted 24 hours each. But my family has eight people so I really don’t want it to last an entire 8 days. I’m also afraid that it will just keep going in a circle one person after another and we’ll have to wait a long time until it finally dies. :’( Thank you SO much for writing this article. It made me think about what actually scares me and now I’m washing everything like crazy! :)

  • Betty

    Just when I think I have this under control, something happens where it shows it’s nasty face! I always get incredibly nervous this time of year and I used to do the “restaurant” thing where I was afraid that I’d throw up in public and I would search out the bathrooms before I went to my seat so I knew what direction to run in case I got sick. I worked very hard at not letting it control my life because I love to travel! However, today I went to my nephews bday party and I found out that almost everyone that was there had just gotten over the stomach bug the day after Christmas. I said, “my God, what are you doing in public at a bday after being sick??? You’re still contagious!!!” I went right outside called my husband and started crying. I wanted to leave but I stayed for my nephew and thought I won’t sit close to those that were sick. Well, wouldn’t you know, they all came and started talking to me. Not to look like a bitch, I interacted but as soon as I came home, I was in tears again. So I’m already expecting that I will get what they had. I haven’t thrown up in over 30 years, I don’t even think I know how to. My whole next week will be ruined because I will be thinking every little gas bubble is the flu. Is there no cure for this. ?

  • Em

    So many people who have this fear! It makes me sad, yet somehow it’s also comforting. I’ve always hated vomitting and whenever I was sick as a kid I felt a little anxious. It’s weird because it seems almost like everyone with this fear has not been sick in a long time. The last time I vomitted was also years ago. So, now it’s really bad because unfortunately nauseau seems to be a daily problem for me. I feel sick so often and the doctors can’t (and most of them don’t even want to) help me. And I just get so anxious whenever I feel extremely nauseous. (which is very often! also it’s even worse at night like right now) I’ve had panic attacks too (luckely it only happened 2 times and after that it didn’t come back. So I’m still kinda sad and scared now, but I think it’s geting a little bit better allready and being here and reading this is also helpful. thank you

  • Jessica Wilson

    wow. I am so comforted reading everyone’s responses. I have dealt with this phobia since I was a child. I’m now a mother of 3 and my youngest (10 mos) picked up his first stomach bug.
    I have so much anxiety it keeps me awake at night. every cough, whimper, or movement sets me on high alert. it’s exhausting. the thing is, I do just fine caring for my children when they do get sick. I’m always quite proud of myself, but the fear leading up to it rules much of my life.
    looking back, I’m pretty mean to family/ friends when they are sick…I think it has to do with them not being able to control themselves. I also tend to get very very sick… so a virus that makes others sick will make me violently ill.
    I actually have an appt with a therapist next week and am really looking forward to getting this phobia under control.
    Thanks to everyone for sharing, May we all find peace.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X