Stress less strategies for gut health
Ever get twinges and butterflies in your stomach? Feel as though your stomach is tied in knots? Changes in your bowel movements, unrelated to food changes? You are definitely not alone. Stress is one of the major factors when it comes to IBS-like symptoms.
There is a powerful link between the gut and the brain, and just like our brains, the gut is also full of nerves. More neurons reside in the gut than in the entire spinal cord! When we are in a state of stress, we send signals from the brain to the gut, which can trigger all sorts of symptoms.
GUT HEALTH SYMPTOMS OF STRESS:
Stress-related digestive symptoms include:
- Lower abdominal pain
- Slow digestion
- Changes in gut microbes
- Stomach spasms
What happens when the body is stressed?
When we feel stressed, the sympathetic nervous (the system which regulates many bodily functions such as our heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure) responds by triggering a “fight or flight” response. In this state of stress, we release our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, to keep the body alert and ready to face the threat.
During this stressed state, our body sends resources to the heart, brain and muscles to fight or flight, and diverts resources away from the reproductive system, immune system and digestive system.
This is a normal, evolutionary response to stress that helps us survive as humans, but long term activation of this stress response can cause many physiological changes.
When stress activates the fight or flight response, it can impact the digestive system by:
- Causing your esophagus to go into spasm
- Increasing acid in your stomach resulting in indigestion
- Encourage feelings of nausea
- Triggering diarrhea or constipation
Stress does not only relate to mental stress, it can be anything from injury, illness, lack of sleep, environmental triggers and even high-intensity exercise.
To prevent stress from wreaking havoc on your digestive system, it is vital to take preventative actions to manage your stress load and reactions to stress.
Ways to manage stress:
–Certain nutrients can help support our bodies natural stress responses:
- Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids which can help regulate our neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which can have calming and relaxing properties.
- Almonds are a good source of magnesium which is involved in over 300 processes, including supporting the adrenal glands which are responsible for making our stress hormones.
- Choose oranges and other citrus fruits containing vitamin C. Vitamin C may help to reduce the release of stress hormones.
-Try out a new relaxation method such as yoga or meditation to help focus your mind on an object or activity, helping you achieve a state of calmness
-Time management skills and managing your time as effectively as possible by planning ahead, setting goals and knowing deadlines will help you feel on top of your “to do” list
-Try out my new favorite tool to help manage stress levels by Sensate. It really helps to get the body into a state of relaxation, by using vibrations, frequencies and relaxing music. A must try for those who struggle to fully switch off and relax.
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Our reaction to stress:
Our reaction to stress is so important to help prevent further problems for our gut microbiome and our overall wellbeing. In today’s busy world, day-to-day stressors such as traffic jams, multitasking, relationships, children and work can trigger the body’s fight or flight reaction. And the more exposure we have to these stressors, the more common our physiological reactions become until we find ourselves always feeling on edge and burnt out.
Stress can build up and potentially become a problem for individuals who do not learn to adapt their lifestyle to cope and “burn off” the effects of their triggered response system. When stress is not effectively managed it can cause serious harm, with long-term extended periods of stress-causing an increased risk for developing illnesses such as cardiovascular problems, digestive problems and diabetes. Stress doesn’t cause these diseases but it can exacerbate the symptoms.
It is vital to look at what is triggering your stress, along with any contributing factors that may be playing a role in the way you react.
How to manage your stress:
- Try meditation – even just 10mintes of deep thinking or listening to nature can help to de-stress and switch off from any underlying stressors.
- Chew your food- try not to eat whilst working and on the go. Take time to be mindful of the food you’re eating, which will also put less pressure on your digestive system.
- It’s okay to say no- don’t feel under pressure when it comes to social plans, if this is something you struggle with, take a read of the book “the art to saying no” and learn how to set boundaries and say no without feelings of guilt. Available HERE
- Self care- take time to look after yourself with a simple self care ritual such as having a bath, treating yourself to a body massage, investing in some essential oils for home or try 20 minutes of stretching.
- Avoid technology late at night and screens two hours before bed as the blue light can affect sleeping patterns, and studies have shown it can increase stress levels significantly. (1)
- Avoid fasting if you’re in a stressed state as it may put too much stress on the body or change your gut bacteria if your stress levels are already high. Fasting can be beneficial for clearing out the gut and giving the digestive system a rest but it can also put additional stress on the body so it’s not right for everyone.
- HIIT classes are fun but it’s so important to listen to your body when it’s tired. HIIT puts a great deal of stress on the body by putting us into that fight or flight response. Try swapping it out for a Pilates or yoga class to help lower your stress levels and have a good stretch.
- Sleep hygiene plays a key role when it comes to stress, supporting your mental health and your gut. Ensure your sleep pattern is consistent, and your bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Try to remove electronic devices before bedtime and avoid large heavy meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed too.
- Keeping a food and symptom diary whilst noting your stress levels is a great idea to measure your stress and gut connection and to see if there’s a correlation. It’s not just about the food you’re eating, and as everyone is individual, your symptoms may be solely stress-related.
- Breath…. Yes, that simple. But so many of us don’t take time out during our hectic daily lives to stop and take a deep breath. This can help calm our stress signals to the gut. Deep breathing will expand the diaphragm and expand the gut which can calm the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to the gut, helping to calm many stress signals.
Overall, it is so important that you pay attention to your gut-brain connection as it could be the cause, or contributing to your digestive problems. Looking at your overall lifestyle and taking a step back to really focus on getting to the route of the problem is the only way to fix your issues long-term.
If your struggling with your gut, email my team or visit my website to book in for a 15 minute FREE discovery call to find out how I can help- email@example.com