While we all have a ‘gut’-wrenching moment under pressure, did you know that there could be a connection between your gut health and stress?
Experts say that both physical and psychological conditions affect your bowels, and when you’re depressed or stressed your digestive tract gets inflamed, making you prone to stomach ailments and other related infections.
The Brain-Gut Connection
In 1833, US Army surgeon William Beaumont was treating a man who was shot in the stomach. While looking at the stomach he noticed that with each significant change in emotion, the stomach’s pumping also changed. When the patient was scared or angry, his stomach moved less and produced lesser amounts of acid than normal.
Your stomach is controlled by the second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is a network of 100 million nerves that handle your digestion and send and receive signals from the central nervous system. It’s a two-way process—when you’re hungry, your stomach starts releasing juices and makes you think more about food even before it reaches you. Similarly, if you’re having a stomachache, your brain sends signals that put you off of food.
After you finish your meal, the food starts traveling through your digestive tract and your second brain communicates with your main brain through the autonomic nervous system (that controls various important and involuntary actions such as the widening or narrowing of blood vessels and the pumping of the heart). This communication is responsible for everyday functions such as not eating when you’re full or a loss of appetite before an important presentation.
How Stress Affects Your Gut Health
When you’re under stress your gastrointestinal system gets inflamed, which in turn reduces (or stops) the digestive secretions responsible for a smooth digestion. This could lead to a gastrointestinal disorder, the symptoms of which could be:
- Difficulty in sleeping and restlessness
- Tremors or stiffness in the muscles, especially around the neck
- Weight fluctuation
- No interest in sex
- Changes in appetite
- An urge to smoke or smoke more if you’re a smoker
- Social withdrawal
- Lack of concentration
Easing Your Stress
- A few minutes of meditation every day are all you need to lower your stress levels. Sit on a chair, close your eyes and imagine that everything is fine and in control.
- Sit straight and practice a few deep breathing exercises. Place a hand on your belly as you do them.
- Focus on the cause of the stress. Take a few minutes to assess the situation and find a solution to avoid it in the future.
- Get together with friends or people who make you happy.
- Use a warm compress to ease the tension in your shoulders and neck.
- Head for a quick walk or run.
Treating Your Gut
Gastrointestinal disorders often get better with a change of diet. Talk to a nutritionist who could chart out a diet that suits you. However, if you’re experiencing other symptoms such as weight loss, fever or blood in the stool, it’s time to visit a doctor.
If your symptoms are being caused by psychological stress, your doctor might offer treatment options such as behavioral therapy or other stress-reducing techniques to help you recover.