Generally, when the thought of digestive issues wanders into our minds we visualize stomach discomfort, inconsistent bowel movements, gas and other implications that sometimes find us in a full-time relationship with the bathroom.
Unfortunately, whilst all this “glamorous” activity is happening, a secondary ripple effect starts to dictate our moods, which evidently impacts our personal lives, sometimes leaving questioning whether we’re borderline depressed, or that we’ve become a permanent moody arsehole.
So, what is actually happening to our bodies?
Believe it or not, but the gastrointestinal tract is VERY sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation – which all can trigger those fun symptoms that we’ve just mentioned.
But, it all starts with the microbiome which is a diverse population of microbes (bacteria) that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These little guys play an important role in the health of your gut, and other aspects of your life like physical. There are now studies outlining the important role the microbiome plays in mental health! These studies fall under the category, ‘gut-brain axis’ and has become leading research within the digestive health space over the past few years.
So while you’re trying to manage your bathroom urgencies, you also need to be mindful of your present mental state. So many things to think about!
So how does the microbiome dictate mental health?
At the moment, researchers speculate that any disruption to the normal, healthy balance of bacteria (microbes) in the gut can cause the immune system to overreact and contribute to inflammation of the GI tract. These types of ‘disruptions’ can be caused by antibiotics, stress, infections, poor diet/lifestyle choices and other dramatic treatments on the body.
When these trillions of little microbes have been disrupted from being happy and healthy, they become weakened, or damaged which can start to deteriorate at the stomach lining. This can expose the body to exhaustion, depression, inflammatory conditions, nutritional deficiencies, and anxiety.
Okay so on the ‘flip side’, what happens to our mental health when our microbiome is happy?
Happy microbiome reflects a diverse set of healthy bacteria, which helps you to optimize your body’s response to STRESS. This is particularly important because your gut bacteria produce serotonin – which most of us now know plays a very important role in regulating our moods, which communicates to our brain! Other healthy bacteria work to help lower cortisol, the notorious stress hormone.
Fortunately for the most of us, stress is manageable which means that if we focus on maintaining a balanced mental state, then it will help lower our cortisol which will leave us with more opportunity to feel, look and live our very best!
SIDE NOTE: Unfortunately, for humans living with IBD high levels of cortisol can induce nasty flare-ups, so it’s best to get educated in what can be proactively done to relieve stress.
So, how do we manage STRESS?
Well, this is where it can seriously depend on the individual. But let’s chat about the basics
- Learn how to breathe deeply: Your mind can tend to wander, leaving you in thoughts that become quite stressful. Acknowledge when your brain does this, then bring it back to the present moment, before breathing heavily in and out for a few minutes. Focus on staying present and focus on the task immediately in front of you, knowing that you just need to take each step as it comes
- Get moving: Do you have a dog? Or any excuse to get outdoors? Whatever it is, use it! The best form of stress release is exercise, while you release endorphins.
- Meditate: For some people, they like to take this word literally, which is great! But mediation could also mean reading a book, or cooking a favorite recipe, or listening to soothing music. Find what relaxes you and do it for 30 minutes a day.
- Write it down: Got thoughts and emotions built up that you need to get out? Get a piece of paper, or computer and start freely writing about anything/everything that comes to mind… We call this ‘freehand’.
- Communicate: This is probably the most important basic! Sometimes having a cup of tea/coffee while chatting to someone about ‘what’s stressing you out’ can lead to some really promising outcomes! Or if you don’t want to chat about your problems, human interaction (face to face), can be extremely relieving.
Finally, how do we manage gut issues, while in a relationship?
Open up to your partner. A lot of individuals want to deal with it alone because they’re too afraid of judgment or don’t feel like it’s necessary to get a partner involved… But this is not a healthy mind frame to adopt, in fact, it can be quite dangerous. As soon as something is wrong, openly discuss with your partner what has happened – otherwise, they might be sitting there blaming themselves for your sudden mood swings.
Take time out. Value time out when you’re feeling down in the dumps. Use the time to regenerate and find inner strength again. But make sure to communicate this with your partner and lovingly remind them that it has nothing to do with them, your body just needs this time.
Humans aren’t perfect, and that’s what makes us wonderful creatures, so if you have good people in your life, they will value your honesty and understand how to support you.