Why Do We Get The “Butterflies in the Stomach” Feeling? (2024)

Most of us have had those fluttering feelings we commonly call “butterflies in the stomach”—the feeling we get when we're nervous or excited about something. It’s a common phenomenon for people everywhere.

This article will discuss what it is, the science behind what is happening, if butterflies are truly a sign of love, the negative aspects of this feeling, and how to manage that butterflies in the stomach feeling.

What Is This Butterflies in the Stomach Sensation?

If you notice, butterflies usually occur when we are nervous, anxious, or excited. For example, maybe you had the jitters and got that “butterflies” in your stomach feeling before you were scheduled to give a big presentation to your team.

Or if you’re dating, maybe you experienced butterflies in your stomach when someone attractive approached you or when they knocked on your door before you went out on your first date. In those cases, you were likely excited.

How Science Explains the Butterfly Feeling

Scientists trace this sensation to a few things. The first is a chemical that is released called dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. Dopamine helps us feel happy during pleasurable activities, like when you’re flirting or having sex.

The surge of norepinephrine in your central nervous system also contributes to feeling butterflies. Norepinephrine is both a hormone and neurotransmitter. As a neurotransmitter, it works as a chemical messenger between your nerve cells. Norepinephrine is released during times of stress or fear when the “fight or flight” response kicks in.

Similarly, it’s released during those romantic moments of attraction or arousal. While nervousness and arousal might seem like entirely different things, in both cases our bodies are in an excited, almost primitive state. Research has in fact shown that romantic love shares many characteristics with mammalian attraction.

The third way science explains the phenomenon we call butterflies in the stomach has to do with the gut-brain axis. If you have a gut feeling, butterflies in your stomach or gastrointestinal nervousness or stress, you’re receiving intelligence, but it’s coming from your gut area.

In effect, you’re experiencing the gut and brain’s remarkable connection. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, what is nicknamed our second brain or gut brain, is located in our digestive system. The digestive system even has its own nervous system called our enteric nervous system (ENS).

So, that attraction, excitement, nervousness, anxiety or stress creates undulations in your gut. Our body’s sophisticated nervous system is communicating with us. In everyday language, we call what we’re experiencing in this case, butterflies in the stomach.

Do Butterflies in the Stomach MeanLove?

When people describe the signs of love at first sight, they sometimes describe an instant attraction or knowing. They may also talk about experiencing butterflies in their stomach, stomach distress or a euphoric feeling.

Research from a study showed that hormonal changes happen when people fall in love, but those changes were transient. The cortisol levels rose significantly amongst those who had recently fallen in love compared with those who had not. Women in love showed higher testosterone levels while men in love showed lower levels of FSH and testosterone. But when tested 12 and 24 months later, their hormones reverted to normal levels.

It’s important to note that those flutters are therefore not signaling to you that this is everlasting love. Usually temporary, these flutters are signaling to you that you are nervous or thrilled about the situation. Love is built over time based on caring, respect and intimacy. It’s when you deeply bond with someone else and your relationship can go the distance.

If you’re confused about your romantic feelings for someone, take this quiz. It may help you see that you may very well be experiencing signs of attraction, infatuation or lust rather than love.

Can Butterflies in the Stomach Be a Bad Thing?

Having butterflies or gut-level signals can be a good thing. For example, it’s nice to be excited about a romantic prospect and feel that gentle flip-flop in our tummies. If our gut warns us to avoid a certain person, we should trust what it’s saying. Our gut has valuable information that it’s communicating to help us avoid danger.

Sometimes gut sensations and what people may erroneously call butterflies in the stomach signal a gastrointestinal disorder. Nausea, persistent abdominal pain and extreme discomfort in the gut area can occur after an upsetting emotional situation or be traced to a physical cause. Whatever the source, it’s wise to seek medical attention about this.

We now know that our emotional state affects our physical state and vice versa. If you’re sensing fear, constantly ruminating, or have severe anxiety over a long period of time, you’re advised to seek professional help. If left untreated, these conditions can lead to a poor quality of life.

According to one study, stresses from our thoughts and emotions after upsetting situations do indeed affect us. The bidirectional interaction between the brain and gut affects functional gut diseases like IBS. Dysregulation of the system is implicated in the origination and continuation of several stress-sensitive disorders.

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Managing Butterflies in the Stomach

Based on the mind-gut intimate relationship, it’s understandable that people diagnosed with anxiety disorders and/or mood disorders have a high rate of IBS symptoms. In research, cognitive behavioral therapy, and other psychological interactions were effective for those suffering from IBS.

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Let’s say it’s the first time you’re doing public speaking or going on a date after many years of not dating. Maybe your pulse has quickened, you’re hyperventilating a bit, you’re weak in the knees and the butterflies in the pit of your stomach are doing somersaults. No need to worry as that’s a pretty normal reaction to have.

Here are ways to manage the stress and respond before it gets the better of you. Some things you can do in the moment to calm yourself and some suggestions you might want to develop a practice around:

  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Use guided visualization for relaxation
  • Relax your muscles from head to toe
  • Learn mindfulness meditation
  • Participate in nature therapy

Having butterflies in your stomach lets you know you’re excited or stressed about something. Most of the time it’s nothing to worry about.Often temporary, it will likely pass. But if you constantly have this sensation, you’re advised to get treatment. You might be experiencing some kind of panic, stress or anxiety disorder.

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4 Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Fisher HE, Aron A, Brown LL. Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for mate choice. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2006 Dec 29;361(1476):2173-86. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2006.1938

  2. Marazziti D, Canale D. Hormonal changes when falling in love.Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004;29(7):931-936. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2003.08.006

  3. Taché Y, Million M. Role of Corticotropin-releasing Factor Signaling in Stress-related Alterations of Colonic Motility and Hyperalgesia.J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2015;21(1):8-24. doi:10.5056/jnm14162

  4. Radziwon CD, Lackner JM. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for IBS: How Useful, How Often, and How Does It Work?.Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2017;19(10):49. Published 2017 Aug 17. doi:10.1007/s11894-017-0590-9

Why Do We Get The “Butterflies in the Stomach” Feeling? (1)

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.

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Why Do We Get The “Butterflies in the Stomach” Feeling? (2024)


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