Having tummy troubles? Stress could be the culprit.
Your gastrointestinal tract, also known as the gut, is especially sensitive to stress and emotions. Because of this, stress can exact a physical toll on your digestive system and impact your quality of life. Fortunately, there are stress management techniques you can follow that can help alleviate these problems.
The Brain-Gut Connection
The gut contains the largest area of nerves outside the brain. For this reason, the gut is often referred to as “the little brain”. In fact, our brain and the digestive tract share many of the same nerve connections.
Stress causes your body to release hormones and chemicals that can interfere with digestion. They irritate your gut flora (microorganisms that aid digestion) and decrease antibody production, which can cause numerous gastrointestinal conditions including:
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Unnatural hunger
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
- Peptic ulcers
10 Simple Tips for Reducing Stress
Stress is a normal part of life and impossible to avoid. But you can manage your stress and limit the impact on your gut. Here are ten tips that can help you reduce stress and the related tummy troubles.
- Take short breaks and breathe. Every few hours, stop what you’re doing and do one minute of slow, quiet deep breathing. You’ll be amazed at the results.
- Just say “no”. Trying to do everything and please everybody all the time is a surefire recipe for stress. Know your limits and when you’re close to reaching them, don’t accept additional responsibilities.
- Exercise or do yoga. Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes a day. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins creating a pleasant feeling in your brain.
- Enjoy some tunes. Listening to soothing music lowers adrenaline and increases the mood-enhancing hormone serotonin, which helps to quiet your mind and relax your body.
- Let go. Instead of stressing about things you can’t control focus on the things you can control, such as how you react to problems. Your reaction is your choice.
- Listen to a guided relaxation exercise or meditate. You’ll not only feel relaxed while doing it, but most people also experience a sense of calm that lasts for hours afterward.
- Have sex. Studies have shown that besides decreasing blood pressure, making love also releases the hormone oxytocin, which reduces both anxiety and stress.
- Watch your favorite sitcom or comedy. Laughter not only lowers the stress hormone cortisol, it also increases endorphins, which boost your mood.
- Get a pet. Stroking a dog or cat can slow your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and release “feel-good hormones,” all of which help reduce stress.
- Schedule a time to worry. If you’re a frequent worrier, set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day to focus on what’s troubling you. When time’s up, let go of your worries. Take a few deep breaths. And move on to other things.
Other Important Thoughts To Consider
It takes effort to reduce stress and its impact on the stomach. These tools can work if you implement them correctly and if you make them a daily priority. However, expecting immediate results and 100% absence of symptoms will only increase your frustration and symptoms.
Acceptance of some degree of stomach discomfort is important. If tackling all of this alone feels too much, seek the help and guidance of a therapist who specializes in anxiety and stress. Also, take a look at your diet. Certain foods are known to irritate the stomach.
Finally, consult with a doctor and try the recommended medical treatments. There are many stomach disorders that stress reduction alone cannot resolve. You must address the biological, psychological and social aspects when trying to solve gut related problems.