Everyone can relate to butterflies in the stomach before an important event, right? For some, they may even experience nerves that make them nauseous or want to relieve themselves in the bathroom. But what if we told you that these common signs of nervousness were actually the underlined link between mental stress and anxiety, and physical changes in the gut?
Let’s explore the different types of stress than can implicate the gut…
Fight or Flight
Stress and anxiety are believed to activate our ‘fight or flight’ mode, which is what our ancestors used to escape from dangers, such as wild animals.
Fight or flight heightens the sharpness of the brain, raises our heartbeat and diverts extra blood and nutrients to our arms and legs. It balances by slowing or stopping the workings of the gut, which can cause the digestive system to work ineffectively.
Stress increases the amount of acid that you develop in your stomach, which leads to indigestion and heartburn.
Our stomach depends on bacteria in the intestine to digest and break down the food that we eat. An imbalance in the nature of bacteria can cause terrible digestive problems and unfortunately, stress can have an impact on the balance of good and bad bacteria.
We couldn’t stress how crucial it is to get a good night’s sleep. Good digestion depends on this and it is well known that stress can make it a lot more challenging for people to get a good night’s sleep.
So how can we recognize some of the symptoms of stress or anxiety?
Believe it or not, but we may not realize the impact that stress can have on our bodies. Worst of all, we may not even realize that we are suffering from stress and anxiety, which can be super alarming.
So you’re probably wondering what some of the symptoms CAN look like, to help us understand, or be in better tune with our own bodies.
- Digestive problems, such as indigestion, heartburn, constipation, nausea or runny poops
- Sleeping issues/Insomnia:
- Constant Fatigue
- Respiratory problems, such as short or shallow breath
- Neck or upper back muscle aches
- Cravings for sugar or fried foods
These symptoms can create a foundation for ongoing, and more severe problems such as IBS, or potentially aggravate the oncoming IBD (although doctors are still trying to work out what EXACTLY causes IBD). Regardless, from a personal perspective, stress 100% triggers some terrible flares within the ulcerative colitis, and I’m sure that individuals with IBD have experienced the same thing.
Other short to long-term problems caused by stress can be:
- Consistent heartburn: due to build-up of acid in the stomach
- Stomach pains: due to cramping of the stomach muscles
- Diarrhea & constipation: due to changes in speed in digesting food
- Stomach ulcers: due to bad bacteria from stress
So, how do you reduce stress?
Reducing stress long-term takes a lot of patience and commitment. It’s not something that is going to happen overnight and will need a lot of work implementing into your daily routine. However, here are some tips to help you along your way…
- Understand what makes you stressed: Get a diary and start tracking moments that make you stressed. Whether it’s work or home life you need to figure it out. Once you identify trigger points, you can start to look for a solution
- Talk to someone: Don’t suffer all by yourself. It’s so important to have a community of people around you who will support you during times of need. Use your resources
- Eat well: We’re HUGE advocates of this. Drink plenty of water, eat lots of fresh produce and buy good quality meats. Increase fiber intake and cut down on tobacco or alcohol.
- Exercise: Get outside and move that body! Exercise releases so many awesome endorphins and not to mention, it makes you look good too
- Allocate time to yourself: Have breaks during the day to help ease your mind through stressful periods. Take a walk, read a magazine or have coffee with a friend.
- Make changes: Try new hobbies, or pick up some old ones that you used to love. Maybe volunteer your time with a local charity, or teach yourself something new? Find that outlet and use it.
Remember, it’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way that you carry it! So be kind to yourself and start thinking about how you can manage stress from a holistic perspective.