How stress and anxiety affect digestion?

Experiencing butterflies in the stomach or feeling nauseous before a daunting event is a well-known sign of nervousness, which clearly indicates the link between anxiety, stress, and physical changes in the gut.

According to research, the brain and gut are in synchronization with each other. For instance, the mere thought of eating can cause the stomach to produce digestive juices in order to break down the food properly. Similarly, the thought of a potentially threatening situation may cause the brain to send signals to the gut that may result in constipation or uncontrolled bowels.

How stress and anxiety cause digestive problems?

The brain and gut connection make the gastrointestinal (GI) system more vulnerable to emotions and reactions such as mental stress and anxiety. When you are stressed or anxious, the sympathetic nervous system responds by triggering a fight-or-flight response. While the fight-or-flight response raises the heartbeats, heightens the brain activity, and diverts excessive blood and nutrients to the arms and legs, the nervous system balances this act by restricting the workings of the gut. This may lead to various digestive concerns such as:

  • Nausea
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Indigestion 
  • Acidity or heartburn

In more serious cases, stress or anxiety may even disrupt the blood flow, resulting in abdominal cramping, inflammation, or an imbalance of the gut bacteria. Moreover, it can also aggravate gastrointestinal disorders, including:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Peptic ulcers
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Preventive Measures

One of the best ways to improve digestion is stress management. Reducing stress and anxiety levels can decrease inflammation in the gut, ease gastrointestinal (GI) distress, and help you stay nourished. So if your stress or anxiety levels are affecting your digestive system, here are some tips that can help improve your gut health:

  1. Try herbal remedies

If you are feeling nauseous, ginger root may prove to be highly beneficial. You can drink ginger tea, chew a piece of root, or eat a ginger candy to reap its health benefits. Other herbs like peppermint, spearmint and lavender are also popular antispasmodics, i.e. they can restrict spasms and tightening of the muscles that cause stomach butterflies, cramps, and flatulence. For instant relief from gas or acidity, you can also try herbal antacids like Gas-O-Fast sachets that come in natural flavours like jeera, ajwain, sauf and pudina.

2. Practice yoga

Make sure you’re performing enough physical activity like running or walking in order to improve and support your digestive system. Exercises like Hatha or lyengar yoga not only focus on alignment and posture but are also known to reduce gastrointestinal problems.

3. Consume prebiotics and probiotics

When it comes to your diet, you should opt for foods that encourage good gut bacteria, like prebiotics and probiotics. Fruits and vegetables like banana, asparagus, onions and garlic contain prebiotics, whereas fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, natto, and yogurt contain probiotics, both of which can promote healthy digestive system functioning.

4. Avoid caffeine, especially coffee

The caffeine content of coffee not only increases nervousness and anxiety but also stimulates the bowel movements. Either wait to consume coffee till your nervous bowels calm down or try alternative drinks like green tea or oolong tea. As stress and anxiety can adversely impact your digestive system, it is important to keep your mind calm at all times. This will not only help you maintain good digestive health but also save you from the risk of other adverse diseases.

Danish

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