Stress - A Pain in the Gut

Updated: Sep 23, 2020

You’re at a crossroads. There’s a big decision that needs to be made. Your gut is twisting and turning. Know that feeling? Perhaps it’s not a decision - perhaps it’s dealing with any difficult situation or doing something you dread. Either way we have all had those anxious butterflies in our stomachs. However, sometimes those butterflies feel more like a box of angry ferrets! Did you know that your brain and the gut are connected and constantly in communication? In fact, more neurons reside in the gut than in the entire spinal cord. Let’s look a little deeper at the connection. What happens in our gut when we start to stress? When our bodies are faced with an extreme situation our entire sympathetic nervous system — a part of the body which regulates all bodily functions — responds by triggering a “fight-or-flight" response. This is usually in the form of a hormone called cortisol which gets the body ready to react. Cortisol can cause a whole range of physiological changes, like a heightened state of awareness, faster breathing and heart rates, higher blood pressure and blood cholesterol, and an increase in muscle tension. In some extreme cases, stress may cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, which could lead to cramping, inflammation, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. In a recent article Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine explained in more detail. “There are chemicals that communicate between centres in the brain and digestive tract that will alter gut motility, nutrient absorption, and the microbiome. There are hormones from the gut that can alter mood, hunger, and satiety." This means, your stomach can send signals to your brain, causing an emotional shift, and your brain can send signals to your stomach, causing gastrointestinal distress symptoms such as cramps, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and the list goes on. What are some ways to regulate stress? Focus on what you consume What we put in our body can have a major effect on our overall health. To keep on top of your health it’s best to try and focus on healthy foods that support your gut - think yoghurt, nuts, olive oil, sauerkraut and kombucha. Of course, you’re allowed a piece of cake here and there, it’s just about moderation! Be sensible with alcohol We all enjoy a glass or wine with friends or a beer at the footy, but binge drinking on the weekends can lead to both physical and mental issues. Alcohol is a chemical depressant. It disrupts the delicate balance of chemicals and processes in your brain, affecting your thoughts, feelings and actions– and sometimes causes long-term mental problems. Keep moving Exercise really is medicine, there is mounting evidence to show the strong connection between exercise and a healthy mind. Exercise can reduce anxiety symptoms and reduce the symptoms of clinical depression. Stress is always going to be a part of life and something we face regularly. Unfortunately if we leave this unmanaged over long periods of time we could be susceptible to the lingering mental and physical effects.  If you’d like us to work with you to help create strategies to better manage stress, reach out today.

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