Letting Go of Obsessions About My Noisy Stomach

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Reader’s Question

Over the last three years I have developed a problem that is now starting to take over my life.

My issue is that I have become so paranoid about my stomach making strange noises in public and mainly that I may pass wind loudly, which would be highly embarrassing.

My problem started when I was in a very quiet class one day and my stomach made a noise. This embarrassed me and from that I became more and more conscious of those things and I began dreading classes. Now I even spend my weekends thinking about it and recently it’s been bothering me outside of school too.

I’m in high school and it’s these last 2 years which are very important to me, as I have exams at the end of the year. I need full attention in class but this problem has escalated so much that I cannot focus on what I’m learning in class; my mind is obsessed with thinking about my problem. So each hour in school I sit there so tense and sucking my stomach in all day hoping that my body will not make any weird noises or pass wind loudly, constantly thinking and panicking in my head in case what I’m worried about is going to happen.

I have begun stressing about this so much that it is literally taking over my life, it’s making me hate school and stopping me from wanting to socialize. I feel like I just want to drop out of school and stay at home my whole life. That’s the only place my anxiety problem is calm because it’s a comfortable environment for me.

I really need help with strategies to conquer this exact anxiety issue that I have because I cannot continue like this. Every day is a dread for me.

Psychologist’s Reply

This could feel very scary and debilitating for you to have experienced for so long. What you describe is something others have experienced — and falls within the treatable spectrum of Anxiety Disorders. Because you recognize these obsessive thoughts as excessive and unreasonable, there is an excellent chance that you can return to your previous, normal functioning with treatment.

Many people who suffer from obsessive thoughts or anxiety cope with them exactly how you describe: trying to exert greater control over them. Exerting more control certainly seems the logical way to manage something that feels out of control, doesn’t it? What you have discovered, however, is the paradoxical nature of anxiety and worry:

The more you try to control the worrisome event, the more the worry grows bigger and feels even less manageable. Only by releasing can you gain more control.

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Because your worry is about your body, the gripping and tension you exert each day by sucking in your stomach is only creating more anxiety and may actually increase the likelihood of your body reacting in the way you are trying to prevent! The increased worry and stress is now affecting your academic and social life because the only solution you have found is to avoid the situations in which the event might happen.

First, with these symptoms it would be helpful to visit with your doctor to ensure that what you are experiencing is normal and that there aren’t any other physiological issues to address. Talking with your doctor may be a good first step in putting your mind at ease about what the noises mean and to find ways to allow your body to work naturally.

Second, your doctor can provide a referral for you to talk with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in anxiety. That professional can give you specific exercises and help you find solutions to making these obsessive thoughts smaller.

For anyone who is experiencing obsessive or compulsive symptoms, I would also recommend Dr. Edna Foa and Dr. Reid Wilson’s book, Stop Obsessing!: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions. [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]

Because this problem has been hovering over you for three years, it is very important to be patient with yourself in solving it. It may take a few weeks or months before you feel like yourself again, but if you can follow your physician and/or licensed mental health provider’s plan, you may find relief from the everyday dread.

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