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Butterflies in Your Stomach: The How and the Why

By Olivia Harlow

You know the feeling you get on a first date or before a big exam? That feeling in the pit of your tummy, telling you that you might barf or pass out? Feeling extra excited or stressed out during the holiday season? Well, there’s a reason for that tingling sensation — the resemblance of a multitude of butterflies taking flight. 

What Are Those ‘Butterflies’ in My Stomach?

There’s science behind that gut-wrenching feeling. The digestive system is closely linked to your thoughts and emotions, meaning that when anxiety or nervousness arises, those jitters can quickly turn into tummy quart-wheels. 


Our Body in Action

Butterflies are associated with what’s known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ response. When the brain perceives a potential threat to survival — Yes, it sounds dramatic, but stick with us here! — it naturally increases heart rate and blood pressure. Your breathing quickens, and your adrenal glands release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Your armpits start to sweat, and your face might even turn beet read. During this process, the stomach — an organ some scientists call a ‘second brain’ — becomes extra sensitive.

Of course, a first kiss or on-stage performance isn’t an actual ‘threat to your survival.’ It’s our body’s evolutionary response, and to fully understand, you’d have to look back thousands of years.


Going Back in Time…

Back in the day, when people had to run from mountain lions or fight in battle for survival, this type of bodily response could’ve literally saved their lives. After all, enough adrenaline can allow you — yes, you — to lift a car above your head in a life-threatening situation!

Sure, a job interview can’t be compared to a ferocious beast attacking you, but the body deals with these stressors in the exact same way. Blood flows from the stomach to parts of the body where it’s required, such as a caveman’s legs or biceps. It’s a survival tactic that might even assist you during the ACT or the State Championship basketball game!


So, next time you feel your stomach tangled in knots, remind yourself it’s all going to be okay. Trust the process, trust evolution, trust yourself, and trust the butterflies!

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