The body and mind are so intricately connected, that an imbalance in one area automatically disrupts the functioning in another area. Ever considered that stress could be causing all your digestive problems?
Has the thought of a delicious meal ever made your mouth water? Ever pass by a restaurant and find the aroma of food being prepared has made you salivate? On the other hand, does your gut also react to the thought of you making a presentation in front of your bosses? Making you nervous, give you butterflies in your tummy or uneasy with constipation or diarrhea? Our gut and brain are more connected than we may realize. And because of this connection our digestive system is sensitive to our emotions and reaction to stress.
Now that we have established that there is a direct relationship between the brain and our GI tract, let’s take a closer look into the impact that stress has on our digestion. Fight and flight get triggered every time we encounter stressful situations, which causes the release of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. These stress hormones have a number of effects on the body primarily causing an increase in heart rate, faster breathing, heightened awareness, increased muscle tension and much more.
One of the body systems that gets particularly impacted in case of stress is digestion. The throat (esophagus) goes into spasms, acid builds up causing indigestion, making one nauseous, constipated or suffer from loose motions. More serious implications are decrease in blood flow to the area, resulting in cramping, tightness and inflammation. It also has a direct impact on the gut flora leading to compromised defenses and thus an increased chance of infection and overgrowth of the bad bacteria. Causing an overall state of imbalance and poor health in the body. If the stress persists, which most often is the case is it can develop into more sever health conditions like IBS, Ulcers and GERD.
But this does not develop overnight and mainly occurs in 3 phases:
- Short Term stress: mainly relates to immediate discomfort in the digestive system: cramping, bloating and diarrhea.
- Long Term stress: has more serious implications of like ulcers, inflammation, IBS etc.
Yes, stress spells harm, danger and imbalance for the body and mind. The digestive system is the route through which we nourish our body, and if we compromise the health of this system we are going to be in serious trouble. Stress isn’t going to go away, what we can do however is negate the impact of stress on our body by managing it well.
Every person is unique and so are our reactions to stress. Some individuals can face stress without batting an eyelid while others get flustered at the very thought of a difficult situation. Stress isn’t the real enemy, because sometimes stress is good, it gets us moving, pushes us to challenge ourselves. The problem arises when stress becomes the norm, when we do not let the body return to its natural state of equilibrium.
Prolonged stress manifests as problems is different systems in the body, we cannot predict where it will hit us but can only wait for the signs to show. Physical, physiological and psychological effects of stress are detrimental to health and therefore we need to find ways to cope, manage and support our bodies through the various tools out there.
Here are some handy ways you can reduce the negative impact stress is having not just on your digestion but on your overall wellbeing.
Stop & Breath Mindfully: Stress makes us breathe faster causing us to take small shallow breaths. What we are actually doing is reducing the oxygen intake which stresses our cells even more. So STOP take a break and breathe fully. Inhale and fill your belly and exhale and suck your belly in. Focus all your attention on doing just this. You can also add the word RELAX as you do the breathing.
Let Exercise Be Your Escape: Most people naturally choose to run, swim, cycle, pump weights, when stressed. It gives the body and mind a medium to release, vent and let go. For those of you who have not tried this option, start slow. Be sure to make exercise a regular part of your day.
Be Mindful of Your Time Management: We are most often stressed because of a lack of time and the need to complete a ton of work, just now! So, create a time log of your routine jobs, plan and prioritize accordingly. This way you will get the most important jobs done, causing you less worry. Also give yourself a grace period for emergencies that may creep up. So, you always have time.
Be Mindful of Your Thoughts: Quiet often you may notice yourself getting stressed even before the stressor is in front of you. Our mind often imagines the worst case scenarios, creating anxiety and worry for nothing. So, take a step back if you feel stress building up, assess the situation and your thoughts. And stop stressing if it’s just your thought bringing it on. Remember your body does not know the different between thinking of danger and being faced with actual danger, it responds irrespectively. Be mindful, address concerning thoughts and entertain positive ones. There is always a choice in any given situation, it is yours to make.
Be Mindful in Choosing Your Foods: we eat to nourish not stress our body. Beware of foods that tend to stress the body, especially sugary, fried, processed foods. Plan well, eat foods rich in magnesium, which is a good muscle relaxant. Also high vitamin and mineral rich foods, good quality proteins and essential fats support and heal a stressed out body.
Dedicated Self-Time: We can get so caught up in a routine of work, family, shopping, prepping, house chores and the list can go on. In all this we completely miss out on time to do the things we love and enjoy. Ever wonder, what do I like to do? What hobbies did I have? Well, take the time out to invest in yourself and see a transformation in your wellbeing.