Think back to when you were a teenager for just a moment.
When you were a teenager, chances are pretty high that you had a crush or two in your adolescent years. When you would think about your crush, you probably would feel something in your stomach. You probably would even describe this feeling as “butterflies” in your stomach.
Sound familiar? Such a strong emotion felt throughout your entire body… and it all started in your brain.
Your brain can cause some pretty strong feelings and sensations all throughout your body, especially in your stomach and gut. Unfortunately, those strong sensations are not always as delicate as “butterflies”.
When you are stressed out or experiencing feelings of anxiety, your brain sends messages through your body that make your stomach and gut more sensitive, --which can lead to devastation for your gut bacteria.
Today we talk about how stress affects your digestion and gut health, and what you can do to combat the potential damage caused by a stressful lifestyle.
How Your Stomach and Gut Open Up to Inflammation
A theory that has floated around for quite some time is that when you become stressed, your stomach produces more acid.
This influx of acid was believed to be the reason that issues like acid reflux and some ulcers can become an issue in people who live highly stressful lives. The truth of the matter is that more acid is not actually produced within the stomach --it’s the protective lining coating the stomach and gut that diminishes.
Prostaglandins, a substance that coats the lining of the stomach, organs, esophagus and digestive tract decrease in production when your brain is stressed. The already existing acid in your stomach, now that the protective lining is reduced, is now capable of eating away at the lining that coats your esophagus, stomach, gut and entire digestive tract.
What Kind of Health Risks Do a Stressful Lifestyle Open Me Up To?
Stress, and all its effects, can be very uncomfortable.
Sweaty palms, a racing mind and a feeling of fear that reaches all the way down to your toes and back up again are just a few of the possible symptoms of stress. Continuing a stress filled lifestyle can lead to several possible health risks that have to do with inflammation.
Issues such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and peptic ulcer disease are just a few of the gastrointestinal issues one may experience due to non-stop stress.
Does having any stress at all mean that you will contract some form of gastrointestinal illness? No not at all --but for those who live highly stressful lifestyles, you need to be careful and find a way a way to cut down or cope with the stress, or you open yourself up to greater risk.
So What Can I Do About All that Stress?
There are several avenues one can take to handle stressors.
The most simple answer (but also the most difficult to achieve) would be to locate the source of the stress and cut it out of your life… but when that stress is a family member or your job, cutting out that source of stress may not be an option.
Here are some possible solutions to coping with possible stressors in your life:
Workout Often, and Workout Hard
Exercise is a terrific way to relieve stress because of the hormones that are associated with it.
When you get a good sweat going and really push your body, your brain will opt into producing hormones related to joy and contentment. Hormones like dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, and serotonin are released, just to name a few, and cortisol is also secreted as a way to push your body to heal itself.
Cut Down On Acidic Foods
We all love that acidic punch we get from certain foods, but if your body is having high sensitivity to acids, the last thing you want to add into the mix is… well, more acid.
Cutting back on highly processed foods, alcohol, meats, oils, dairy and even coffee (yes, even coffee) may result in less of that “flare up” sensation for those already sensitive to acid.
Besides exercise, it’s important for your mind and body to have a healthy outlet in which you can truly relax and let your body ease out that stress. As great as high intensity exercise may be for your mind and body, it’s understandable that not everyone can exercise immediately at such high intensity.
Allowing yourself to get into a hobby is recommended. Take a cooking class if you have an interest in the culinary arts. Invest in some paint brushes and canvas and let out your inner artists (or just invest in some crayons and paper and let out your inner child). Even something as simple as picking up a pen and writing out what’s going on in your mind and describing what is stressing you can provide substantial help.
Get Ahead of Stressors, and Say “No”
Sometimes, you just have to say “No”.
It can be easy for some, and almost impossible for others, but learning to say no and stand up for yourself and what is best for you can really ease a large portion of what is causing you and your digestive tract so much stress.
If issues at work are causing you endless stress and piling up higher and faster than you can ever get them completed, have a sit-down with your boss or coworker about how much can realistically be done. Alerting them of what is actually realistic versus what is ideal will help both of you adjust your expectations.
Even if your stressors are not coming from work, standing up for yourself and saying “No” and explaining why may lead to more relief than you may realize.
Feeling stress is a natural part of life, but when your stress hijacks your ability to ever feel like you, it can mess up a lot more than just your digestive health.
Take steps to reduce your stress. Your entire body will thank you.
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Liu, Yun-Zi, Yun-Xia Wang, and Chun-Lei Jiang. “Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2017.
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"Stress Relief: When And How To Say No." Mayo Clinic. 2016.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.