Who hasn't felt that special stomach fluttering that a major exam can bring on? Or that feeling of flapping wings building right before a first kiss? These are pretty common physical responses to things that make us nervous, and they're known as stomach butterflies. But have you ever wondered why you get butterflies in your stomach?
Well, if you have, there's a scientific explanation for the phenomenon! In short, "butterflies" are triggered by the same interconnected response systems in our bodies that activate everything from our brains to our muscles to our stomachs. Read on to get a step-by-step breakdown of the science behind stomach butterflies.
Adrenaline Is Coursing Through Your Veins
After the adrenal glands do their job, adrenaline is coursing through your veins, preparing the major fight-or-flight responses for departure. Adrenaline increases blood circulation, breathing, rate, metabolism, and prepares muscles for exertion - all of which prepare our bodies for vigorous movement.
Blood Is Pulsing Towards Your Muscles and Lungs
So, at this point, your adrenaline is flowing. You’re primed and ready to respond to whatever it is that is inducing the fight-or-flight reflex. At the same time, blood flow is being redirected from nonessential organs to essential ones, so your lungs and muscles are receiving a massive rush of blood.
Blood Flow Is Being Diverted from Your Stomach
For blood to be able to flow to the lungs and muscles at the rate it needs to be able to do, it has to be diverted from other, less essential parts of the body. Namely, the stomach experiences this reduction in blood flow. It’s this reduction in blood flow that causes the fluttering sensation of butterflies in our stomachs.
Love, Stress, and Pain Are the Same
It turns out that the butterflies we feel at the beginning of a new relationship, “love” butterflies, trigger the same part of our brain that perceptions of pain and “gut feelings” do. The medial insula regulates our responses to all three, inducing the same flight-or-fight processes as fear and stress.