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.
You're Experiencing a Reaction to Stress
Think about it. Most of the trigger feelings that we associate with getting “butterflies” are actually pretty stressful moments. Fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and love all induce feelings of butterflies, and these feelings are all connected to a single feeling that they have in common: stress. Stress - even new love stress - gives us butterflies.
Your Fight-or-Flight Reflex Has Been Activated
Since butterflies are induced by stressful situations, they trigger a whole series of lightning-fast, interconnected physical processes known as our fight-or-flight reflex. The fight-or-flight reflex switches us into “action mode.” By the time you feel that fluttering in your stomach, the switch has been flipped!
Your Brain Is Signaling Your Pituitary Gland
The first thing that happens when the fight-or-flight reflex is activated is your brain starts sending rapid-fire signals to your pituitary gland. Your pituitary gland is the control-center of the endocrine system (the collection of glands that produces hormones in our bodies). However, the pituitary is a mere stopping point in the butterflies’ flight to the stomach.
You Adrenal Glands Are Firing
The pituitary gland sends signals to the adrenal glands, where adrenaline is produced. You’re going to need a healthy dose of adrenaline if you’re going to run away from that lion in time!
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.