How Stress Can Mess with Your Gut & 3 Things You Can Do About It
When I’m mentally stressed out, on the verge of breakdown and burnout, the first feeling I notice is my stomach. The churning like butterflies when I’m in love, flooded with a loss of appetite and a brain that’s running a million miles an hour. Extended physical stress on my body brings on the same symptoms. The science tells me I’m not alone. Any form of stress affects our overall gut health, and it’s having disastrous consequences on our population.
Studies at Harvard University have shown what we have known for years; the brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. This is the gut-brain connection. We know that the digestive process actually starts in the brain, where the sight, smell, or sometimes mere mention of a food can trigger salivation - the first step in breaking down food. Our brain and digestive system are intimately connected in every stage of the process. Stress can impact blood and oxygen flow to the stomach, weaken intestine walls allowing gut bacteria to enter our bloodstream, and cause indigestion and heartburn due to the build-up of acid in the stomach.
We know stress has devastating impacts on our mental health. But it’s wreaking havoc on our physiological self too. Thankfully, there are solutions for everyone to help alleviate stress from the body. Any concerns with your digestive system that have you second-guessing your health are worth taking a deeper look into, as well as seeing how stress may be impacting your body’s search for homeostasis. We’ve prepared a whole wellness guide, dedicated to treating leaky gut and healing IBS naturally, but here are a few of our favorite easy fixes.
1. Eat For Healthy Adrenal Function
Our adrenal glands help to support metabolism in the body and our response to stress, alongside regulating a healthy immune system and blood pressure. With such a task ahead of them, it’s no wonder they get easily fatigued. According to the Mayo Clinic, extended exposure of the adrenal gland to elevated hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol omitted in stress, can lead to digestive issues, alongside further health concerns. Thankfully, there is an abundance of foods that can be enjoyed to support healthy adrenal function. A personal favorite is the jing adrenal tonic, using medicinal mushrooms to boost the gland’s health. Alcohol, caffeine, and processed sugars are best avoided for adrenal fatigue, instead, reach for foods high in B & C Vitamins and magnesium, such as dark, leafy greens, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and moderate amounts of healthy fats.
2. Adopt Conscious Stress-Reduction Techniques
The best way of tackling a problem is addressing the root cause, but when this stress comes from factors outside our immediate control, we can bring acts of self-love and stress-management into our lives. This looks different for everyone but may include a daily meditation practice or incorporating mindfulness into our routines. Some choose to limit their daily screen time if having any at all or assessing their work-life balance. For others, it may be getting exercise in its various forms; yoga, surfing, running, hitting the gym… anything that gets those endorphins running and gets us immersed in the present. What stressful elements of your life can you change? How would it feel to set this in motion? And remember, if you can’t change it, then it’s not worth wasting your days stressing about it.
3. Remove Stress-Triggering Foods From Your Diet
There’s nothing I love more than a decent cup of coffee. I would take it through an IV drip, given the opportunity. But luckily I learned early on that this beautiful beverage puts a strain on my digestive system. Sure, some days I was having five, double-shot, soy mochas - which by no standard is healthy, but after struggling with adrenal fatigue for nearly a year I learned that my favorite drink was my worst trigger. As soon as I press pause on the coffee consumption, my acid reflux-like symptoms disappear. For you, the foods that aggravate your stress levels and gut issues may be totally different, but there are few commonalities. Unsurprisingly, sugary, processed, and refined foods are often shown to trigger a poor gut-brain reaction. You can find out more about the foods we recommend and those that we avoid in Gut Matters, our essential guide to healing the gut naturally and restoring the digestive system.
Everyone’s experience with stress and digestive health is varied. My gut-brain relationship will feel entirely different from yours, and issues will sometimes manifest in different ways. If you are still finding issues with stress management and your overall gastrointestinal tract, it would be wise to seek out the advice of a qualified holistic practitioner. This may be a nutritionist, dietician, or naturopath, or it could be a counselor, psychologist, or integrative therapist.
In your gut, you’ll know what’s right for you.