Gut Check- Stress and Digestion

Have you ever experienced a stomachache because you had an important presentation? Or perhaps you had to take a difficult exam, or had to tell someone bad news? Stress can effect more than just our mood, and in those moments, we experience the stress in our bodies. Although we don’t always notice the physical symptoms, the impact on our bodies has been brought to light by recent studies. Science has discovered a link between stress and our digestive system.

You may have heard a doctor or nutrition expert refer to the digestive system as the “second brain.” We are hearing more about probiotics and “gut health” than ever before. In fact, it seems we as a society are recognizing the link between gastrointestinal health and our overall wellness. In this article, you can read more about the process that stress takes to interrupt our digestion, as well as some tips on stress management.

Stress reduction/management tips from this article include:

  • Physical activity -Being active helps relieves tension, and stimulates the release of brain chemicals called endorphins that relieve stress and improve your mood.
  • Relaxation therapy –People who have stress-related problems with digestion often benefit from relaxation therapies such as yoga, meditation, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, mental imaging, biofeedback, and even music.
  • Talk therapy –Talking to friends or loved ones about your stress can be a big help, and actual talk therapy that involves working with a therapist can be particularly valuable. A trained therapist can help you find better ways to deal with your stress. Mental health professionals use cognitive behavioral therapy to teach people new coping skills. In a recent study of people with irritable bowel syndrome, 70% saw improvement in their symptoms after 12 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Limit stressors –Resist easing stress by smoking or using alcohol. Relying on drugs to deal with stress can also be tough on digestion.
A certain amount of stress is unavoidable. We all have to deal with it. It’s important to know that stress can upset healthy digestion and make many digestive diseases worse.

If you are having symptoms of stress that are interfering with digestion, talk to your doctor. You may have a digestive problem that needs treatment. If stress management is the problem, your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional who can help.

Allison Wray, LAPC, NCC

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