Does stress tie your gut in knots?
We are living in an unprecedented era of damaged guts: according to the National Institutes of Health, 60 – 70 million Americans suffer from some kind of digestive disease. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, over 20 million Canadians suffer from some kind of digestive dysfunction.
You know what else plagues us in North America? Toxic levels of stress. Stress over deadlines, mortgage payments, lack of sleep, relationships and being ever more disconnected from real people in our ‘connected’ world. And the two phenomena are absolutely connected.
I see clients with digestive concerns in my practice who attribute most of their symptoms to food choice. And make no mistake, food can transform your digestive system for better or for worse. But stress is a very strong predictor of symptoms too, and a stressful event can lead to symptoms that you are more attribute to what you just ate than what you just thought. However, the gut and the brain have an intimate connection through the nervous system. The gut is heavily enervated and signals can travel from the gut to the brain as much as they can travel from the brain to the gut.
How does stress impact digestion?
– Stress can alter the rate at which your gut contracts
– Stress can initiate a relapse in ulcerative colitis or crohn’s disease
– Stress can initiate spasms in IBS
– Stress can intensify perceptions of pain
– Stress can alter the community of bacteria that live in your gut, leading to inflammation and greater symptoms.
So if you suffer from digestive concerns, invest as much energy in managing stress as you do your diet. Eliminate toxic relationships. Leave a brutal job, if you can. Consider meditation or yoga; try and spend time in beautiful, natural settings like the beach or forest. Light candles, take baths, watch a funny movie. And never, ever eat if you are super stressed out – digestion will be compromised, you will make poorer food choices and this leads to symptoms even in those without digestive disease.
A simple remedy to help you calm down your overactive gut, that I often share with my clients, is to do a minute of deep breathing before you pick up your fork. Deep breathing will help activate the parasympathetic nervous system – your rest and digest system. The easiest method is called square breathing: inhale for four counts, hold the inhale for four counts, exhale for four counts and hold the exhale for four counts.
You can do this anywhere, anytime….now, that’s better.