What Does It Mean To Have Butterflies In Your Stomach?

It’s a well-known saying – “I had butterflies in my stomach”. But, what exactly does it mean?

In short, the phrase to have butterflies in your stomach is to describe a feeling of anxiety or worry. The feeling itself is like having a butterfly flying around inside you. 

Today, we’re going to look at its origins and usage, along with some other handy facts! 

What Does It Mean To Have Butterflies In Your Stomach

Origins Of The Phrase 

The earliest recording of the phrase seems to be in the early 20th century but it was stated as a singular rather than a plural. 

The first recording in the English dictionary seems to have come in 1908 but the saying wasn’t quite as we understand it today. It seemed to have denoted the feeling of sadness or depression, a butterfly stomach. 

However, in 1944 – a paratrooper called Bill Gardener wrote in his diary about his training jump, that the first time he jumped out of the plane and landed successfully, he would always have “butterflies in his stomach”.

Bill Gardener’s description and usage of the phrase is how we understand and use the phrase today.

It signifies a feeling of anxiety, fright, excitement or worry and encapsulates the feeling within in a metaphorical way. 

Generally though and perhaps more often, when we use the phrase – we connect it to love.

So, the first time you hold hands with the person you’ve admired for a while or the first kiss, you feel like you have butterflies in your stomach. 

The real question here is, why? Why do we feel like this when it comes to falling in love?

Why Falling In Love Gives You Butterflies In Your Stomach

Some people might ask, what is the feeling of love? How do we know we’re in love?

Usually, the answer will be “you’ll know it when you know it”. The thing is, you can scientifically examine it. 

Love is a chemical reaction in the brain, but the actual “love” is a creation from mankind. It’s a concept rather than an entity.

This chemical reaction we feel when we’re in love gives us the animalistic urges to hug, kiss, and make love. 

You might have the reaction of clammy hands, sweating, heavy breathing and of course, butterflies in your stomach. All of these things we can attribute to love and anxiety. 

According to some psychoanalysts, the physical manifestations such as butterflies in your stomach, clammy hands and sweating etc are all a result of lust.

We, as animals have urges to mate successfully, so we can connect them to an early sexual response. 

Basically, these feelings when it comes to love are very early symptoms of arousal.

We are experiencing the first steps in sexual passion, and this is why we get physical responses such as butterflies. 

We also psychologically worry about “messing up the process”. What if they like me, what if I screw this up?

This arousal along with the accompanying anxiety is what causes the attributing responses that we’re so familiar with. 

When we feel this way, our brain is sending messages which irritate the pleasure nerve center in the stomach known as the basal ganglia.

Because this nerve is being affected, other physiological responses begin to occur such as:

  • High heart rate
  • Heavy breathing 
  • Feeling of ecstasy 
  • Anxiety 
  • Sweaty hands 
  • Stress 

What some experts have theorized is that your body is experiencing a strange duality between stress and motivation.

You’re stressed physically but you’re motivated psychologically to want to see your admired person again. 

This is the same feeling which, over time, gets stronger to want to do anything for that person or do anything to be with that person.

In fact, our brains are connected to our stomachs in a whole manner of ways when it comes to love. 

When we feel a love response, particularly for the first time, we feel things like butterflies, get rosy red cheeks and start to feel almost, worried to an extent. 

Our brains are responding to the situation by releasing a chemical called dopamine in the brain, which is otherwise known as the pleasure chemical.

This is because of our primal animalistic instinct that we have seen something we find desirable in the area. 

Now, you’re 100 percent devoted to the person and focused on getting them. Along with dopamine though, other chemicals are also released in the brain which make us feel worried or anxious.

This is how you can connect butterflies in your stomach to love and lust. 

The thing is, some people will say that they don’t always have this response or these types of physiological factors happen to them.

This is because we are all different and the nervousness response will vary depending on the type of anxiety we feel in other areas of our life. 

What Does It Mean To Have Butterflies In Your Stomach

Butterflies In Your Stomach For Other Situations 

We’ve examined here why love can make you feel butterflies in your stomach, and as we saw – one of the chemical responses makes us feel anxious and worried. 

This chemical will also be released when we’re nervous or scared about something.

This could be in a whole host of situations including things like shown by the paratrooper. The fear of a jump, worried about whether or not you’re going to survive. 

This feeling could also happen before something you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with, such as public speaking. 


When we’re asking what it means to have butterflies in our stomachs, it’s more complex than we might have thought originally.

We can describe the feeling like having a butterfly flying around in our stomach and connect it to worry, anxiety, or love. 

The truth is, it’s caused by chemical release in the brain which then manifests into other body responses like sweaty palms, high heart rate and excessive breathing.