Your Stress Level and Your Gut Have a Relationship That You May Not Know About
Picture yourself driving along when suddenly a car pulls out unexpectedly in front of you. How do you react? What are you feeling in that moment? How do you feel after the fact?
Perhaps your initial reaction is that of fear. Your safety and the safety of the other driver have been compromised. Or maybe it is anger at the other driver for putting your safety at risk. Perhaps when the situation has resolved itself you are still feeling afraid and insecure. These reactions are normal but did you know that they have a direct impact on your gut?
Our brain is processing everything we do and feel all of the time. As part of the fight or flight response (which kicks in during times of stress), our brain sends signals to our digestive system to respond. And it does so quite intensely. The message that is received is to contract the stomach quickly and slow down digestion. Instead of concerning itself with digestion, our brain wants our body to focus on the important survival pieces and in that moment, digestion is not one of them. Rather than concerning itself with digestion, it pumps out the hormones cortisol and adrenaline to help get us out of the situation. In the case of our driving incident, this feeling and the body’s reaction will eventually pass. In time the cortisol and adrenaline will reduce and the digestive system will return to doing what it is designed to do, digest our food and send nutrients to the body.
The problem for our digestive system is when we stay in fight or flight and perhaps even live in this constant state of heightened stress. Living in fight or flight can lead to digestive issues ranging from the inability to absorb nutrients from food, weight gain, poor blood sugar regulation, aches and pains, and potentially serious illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome. When we call into action our hormones for one emergency after another, whether the emergency is real or perceived, we can cause issues in the digestive system. Compromised digestion is a significant contributor to health issues.
Our digestive system is only one piece of the body’s response system when we are stressed. But, it can be the one we notice almost immediately: butterflies, acid reflux, cramping, and chronic constipation are a few possible issues. Once chronic stress settles into the body it can manifest as ongoing heartburn, digestive issues, unseen inflammation and more. It is for these reasons that we not only need to think about what we are putting into our bodies but we also need to consider our stress levels and the impact chronic stress has on our digestive system.
Now is the time to address how you are feeling and if you are living in an ongoing state of heightened stress. Waiting for symptoms to present themselves may be too late. Your body wants to be healthy; it is up to you to help it live in a state of health not a state of dis-ease. Below are a few ways to be preventative or to proactively take control of the relationship between your gut and stress.
5 ways that you can help your digestive system by
reducing your stress
Healthy eating. Include lots of vegetables and fruit. The nutrients and the fibre are important. Invite healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil into your diet. Avoid junk food that depletes your healthy gut bacteria and contains little to no nutrients.
Movement. Find a form of movement that works for you. Perhaps it is a yoga class, time in the garden, a long or a short walk, or a swim. Movement helps to bring relaxation into the body and helps you to help you stay healthy.
Hydration. Start with water. Try adding fresh or frozen fruit to it. Maybe even a slice of cucumber or lemon. Our cells, including the ones in our gut require hydration to stay healthy. Even the act of mindfully sipping on water can slow you down and start to bring in relaxation.
Probiotics. Introduce a good quality probiotic into your daily routine. This will help to rebuild the good gut bacteria that can become compromised when we are chronically stressed.
Breath work. Learning how to calm the body and mind with breath work is an invaluable tool. There are a number of different breath practices that can be learned to help the brain and the body return to rest and digest.
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