In order to understand why de-stressing supports digestive health, it is imperative to understand what happens to digestion under stress.
Put simply, stress has the following impact on digestion:
- Decreased secretions needed for digestion.
- Slower small intestinal transit time.
- Encourages over-growth of gut bacteria.
- Weakens the intestinal barriers, leading to leaky gut syndrome.
- Stress can increase acid in your stomach, causing indigestion.
- The mill in your stomach can shut down and lead to feeling nauseous.
- Stress can impact the colon leading to diarrhea or constipation.
- It can make diseases like stomach ulcers, celiac disease, and inflammatory bowel disease worse.
Occassional stress is normal, but chronic stress is very damaging to health. Gut microbiota respond directly to stress-related signals. Not only does stress affect the physiological function of the gut, but it has also been shown to actually cause changes in the composition of the microbiota. And may beven changes to neurotransmitters. This can lead to the development of a variety of gastrointestinal diseases such as GERD, peptic ulcers, IBD, IBS, and allergies to foods.
Basically it does a lot of bad stuff, and no good stuff for the digestive system. The digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system. When an individual is stressed, the “fight or flight” response can be activated in the central nervous system, and blood flow to the digestive tract can be slowed which impacts the contraction of the digestive muscles, and decreases the secretion needed for digestion. This can cause inflammation and makes individuals more susceptible to infection.
7 Ways to Combat Stressors:
As you can see, learning how to de-stress can support digestive health, and lead to greater health all around. How can you de-stress? The following are some simple ways to combat both normal stressors and causes of chronic stress.
- Exercise. Physical activity helps to relieve tension and stimulate the release of endorphins. Endorphins relieve stress and improve mood.
- Relaxation. Finding ways to relax can help eliminate normal stresses. For those with chronic stress, relaxation therapies like yoga, meditation, and hypnosis, or mental imaging, biofeedback, and muscle relaxation can be extremely beneficial, especially when practiced regularly.
- Talk it out. Talking to a friend can help to lower stress. Often simply “Getting it off your chest” is what is needed. However, in cases of chronic stress, simply talking to a friend may not be enough. Talking to a trained therapist can be useful in helping to de-stress, as they can help to pinpoint triggers, and offer methods for coping with and avoiding stress. One study of individuals with IBS showed 70 percent saw improvement in their symptoms after 12 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Eat foods that are easy to digest. It is normal to eat junk, binge, etc. when stressed. However, overeating or binging on junk food to deal with stress usually ends up leading to more stress and poor digestion. Instead of fatty, sugary foods, consider a healthy, well-balanced diet. Consider dining, rather than eating, meaning slow things down. And focus on foods that help you feel well.
- Limit stressors. Some stress is unavoidable, but look at the things that most commonly cause stress in your life, and look for ways to reduce or eliminate them to make your life more stress free. This might be learning to say “no” or it might mean changing career paths.
- Get enough sleep. Too little sleep can cause stress. Make getting sufficient sleep a real priority. Not only does insufficient sleep lead to loss of brain function, but it can also make it harder for your body to process “normal” stress.
- Do something fun. Stress is often easily relieved simply by doing something enjoyable. Choose a hobby you have not made time for recently, see a movie, read a book, play a game, or do anything you normally find enjoyable.