If you’re looking for tips to help you overcome emetophobia, you’ve come to the right place!
While most people dislike vomiting, I have suffered from emetophobia since I was a little girl. The idea of hearing or watching someone throw up makes my heart race, and if I ever see a pile of vomit in public, I am overcome with fear I’ll get some on my shoes and will bring it into our house and make my family sick. My medicine cabinet is always equipped with anti-nausea medication, I’m really anal about food safety, I never eat anything with mayonnaise in it, and I avoid sick people like the plague.
For a long time, my avoidance techniques worked really well, but once my daughter started full time school, I quickly learned I had 2 options: I could spend the rest of my life living in fear of the inevitable, or I could learn how to overcome emetophobia once and for all.
It’s been a work in progress, and while I haven’t completely gotten past my fear, I’ve come to learn that exposure to our phobias really does help. I’m still a stickler for regular hand washing, I pay close attention to food expiration dates, and avoid exposure to sickness as much as I can, but I don’t obsess over it nearly as much as I used to.
If you’re looking for tips to help you or your child overcome emetophobia, read on for my best tips and ideas!
What Is Emetophobia?
Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting, watching someone else vomit, seeing vomit, and feeling nauseas. People who suffer from emetophobia don’t just find the idea of vomiting disgusting and unbearable, but they live in fear of it, which can have a significant impact on their lives. They may avoid things they associate with vomiting, like sick people, doctor’s offices, and hospitals, and engage in other avoidance behaviors. For example, a person with emetophobia may avoid certain foods and beverages, refuse to eat in restaurants, and restrict travel. They may wash their hands excessively, be overly cautious when preparing and cooking food, and avoid shaking hands and coming into close contact with others. These behaviors make them feel safe in the short-term, but actually amplify their fears over time.
What Causes Emetophobia?
Emetophobia is usually triggered by a specific event, such as:
- Throwing up repeatedly due to food poisoning or a stomach bug
- Throwing up in public
- Watching someone else throw up
- Having someone throw up on you
Emetophobia typically develops in childhood, and many people cannot remember the exact incident that triggered their fear.
8 Tips to Help You Overcome Emetophobia
1) Get to the root of your fear
If you want to know how to overcome emetophobia, one of the first things you need to do is figure out what caused you to develop emetophobia in the first place. Many people can pinpoint a specific traumatic event, while others have been living with emetophobia since they were children and have absolutely no idea what triggered it. If you fall into the latter category, talk with your family members to see if they have any insight. It can also be helpful to evaluate the exact things that cause you to feel fearful and anxious as it relates to vomiting. For example, some people are terrified of throwing up themselves, whereas others are only afraid of watching someone else vomit.
2) Challenge fearful thoughts
Once you know what caused your emetophobia and the things that frighten you most about vomiting, spend some time challenging your fears with logic. If you live in constant fear of throwing up from a stomach bug or food poisoning, ask yourself how often you’ve actually suffered from each of those illnesses. Remind yourself that even if you do succumb to such a sickness, the actual act of vomiting is usually over quite quickly, it makes you feel better, and the incident is unlikely to last more than 24-48 hours. Think about all of the energy you put into worrying about getting sick and avoiding people and situations that might cause an illness versus the actual time you spend throwing up, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
3) Recognize anxiety isn’t the same as sickness
One of the challenges with emetophobia is that the fear it creates can cause stomach upset and digestive distress, and since these sensations feed into the fear of throwing up, it becomes a vicious cycle. If you or your child suffers from emetophobia, it’s important to learn the difference between the symptoms of anxiety and sickness. While anxiety can may make you feel sick, it doesn’t make you throw up, and that’s an important distinction to make.
4) Learn mindful breathing
If you’re searching for tips to help you overcome emetophobia, you’ve probably read about mindful breathing. It’s one of the most common breathing techniques for anxiety, but it’s not always easy for everyone. It does take practice, but when you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it with ease.
To get starteed, find a chair to sit down in and put your arms on the armrests. Take a deep breath in through your nose, lasting for about 5 seconds, hold your breath for 3 seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth for 7 seconds. Repeat 10 times, and as you get more comfortable, you can repeat up to 20 times. Once you’ve mastered this technique, you can use it anywhere and at anytime to help calm yourself down.
If you have a child who suffers from emetophobia, we’ve written an entire post on deep breathing techniques for anxious kids, which you can read HERE.
5) Make it funny
This technique is geared towards kids and teens who suffer from emetophobia, but can be helpful to adults as well. Words like, ‘vomit’, ‘barf’, ‘puke’, and ‘throwing up’ can cause significant anxiety for someone with emetophobia, but if you find a way to make these words funny, you can counteract those feelings of fear. For example, you can make up a song together, or even replace the words of an existing song. Instead of singing ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’, you may sing, ‘Baa, Baa, Black Barf.’
The idea behind this technique is to try and replace fear with humor. This will take time, but can be very helpful with little ones!
6) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a form of psychotherapy used to help individuals understand how their thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a short-term therapy technique that is effective in treating anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, depression, addiction, eating disorders, anger management, etc., and is used to help people overcome a specific fear such as emetophobia.
The goal of CBT is to help people learn that even though they cannot control everything about their lives and the world around them, they can control how they interpret the things that happen to them and how they respond.
Unlike other forms of therapy that encourage patients to speak freely about their life and the challenges they are facing, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions are very structured. Instead of focusing on the past, CBT is goal-oriented and sessions are aimed at discussing specific problems and helping patients to find solutions.
7) Exposure Therapy
If you want to overcome emetophobia, and none of the tips and strategies you’ve tried are working, Exposure Therapy (ET) is perhaps the most effective treatment option to consider. ET is a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy that can be very helpful to those who struggle with a specific fear or phobia. It’s usually performed over a series of 12-16 sessions, and is designed to challenge the ‘escape/avoidance’ behaviors that maintain and intensify the fears behind your phobia.
Depending on the severity of your emetophobia, you can try to work on Exposure Therapy yourself, but seeking the help of a trained exposure therapist is best. He or she will work with you to break down a specific anxiety-producing situation into several, smaller fears, and then rank them in order of intensity. The idea is to exposure yourself to each fear – starting with the least anxiety-producing situation first – and have you stay within the fear-inducing situation until your anxiety comes down. Distractions and/or avoidance behaviors are not allowed, and the exercise is repeated periodically until it no longer causes you to feel anxious. Once this occurs, the next fear-inducing situation is tackled until you’ve overcome your phobia completely.
Of course, the idea of being exposed to vomit can feel extremely overwhelming to someone with emetophobia, but rest assured that ET is focused more on challenging the avoidance behaviors that negatively reinforce your fear of throwing up. For example, your sessions may work through a list of items like this:
- Saying the word ‘vomit’ out loud
- Touching a doorknob
- Shaking hands with others
- Using a public restroom
- Eating food prepared by someone else
- Eating takeout/in a restaurant
- Sleeping in a hotel
- Going to the doctor during cold and flu season
While there is no medication designed specifically to help people overcome emetophobia, anti-anxiety medications can help make the symptoms of emetophobia more manageable. Medication can also make Exposure Therapy more tolerable in more extreme cases, and might be worth discussing with your doctor.
I hope these tips help you in your quest to overcome emetophobia and make you feel less alone. The fear of throwing up is more common than you might think, and while you may never reach a point where the act of vomiting (or watching someone else vomit) doesn’t make you feel anxious, these strategies will help alleviate avoidance behaviors so you can stop living your life in fear of sickness.