Most of us have direct experience of how chronic or intense psychological stress can affect the digestive system. Ancient practitioners of Chinese medicine also theorized that the intestine (particularly the liver) was the seat of emotions. Modern science explains this phenomenon by discovering that up to 90% of our neurotransmitters and hormones are produced in the intestine.
What Happens to Digestion When We Are Stressed
Something that many of us do not know, logically at least, is that the digestive system is in fact governed by the Central Nervous System, that is, a subbranch of the nervous system called the “parasympathetic nervous system.” In essence, the parasympathetic system is our “rest and digest” state. Only when we are relaxed and free of stress is the parasympathetic system activated and therefore digestion.
When we enter a state of stress, the counterpart of the parasympathetic system; the sympathetic system is activated. This state of stress or the “fight or flight” response stops digestion by reducing blood flow to the digestive organs, inhibits the secretion of digestive fluids, and instead sends blood and biological energy to the musculoskeletal system to prepare. for battle.
When the sympathetic system is chronically stimulated by prolonged stress, it can cause gastrointestinal disturbances, inflammation, and weaken the immune system.
An example of how stress can cause common digestive problems is causing spasms in the esophagus and disrupting stomach acid secretion. This causes heartburn, acid reflux, and can make you nauseous. Another example is the effects that stress has on the colon. Severe stress increases the secretion of the stress hormones cortisol, prolactin, and serotonin, which can cause the colon to become hyperactive or tense, leading to diarrhea or constipation.
When any of these conditions become persistent, inflammation and the general malfunction of the digestive system can eventually lead to stomach ulcers, IBS, and inflammatory bowel disease.
How to manage stress for better digestion
Reducing total stress is not a quick fix job, it requires a holistic and multifactorial approach. However, psychological stress is one of the main dominant stressors that negatively affect the digestive system. While it may take time to control the causes of psychological stress, there are some simple things you can do to mitigate its effects.
An easy way to de-stress is to do moderate and fun exercise. Physical exercise relieves tension, drives us crazy, improves mood by releasing endorphins but also helps eliminate stress hormones. Some of the healthiest forms of exercise include walking, walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, yoga, Thai qi, and weight lifting.
Other great ways to reduce stress include:
Relaxation – People with digestive problems are often overly stressed and don’t relax enough. Getting deep, authentic relaxation is more challenging in today’s world, but it can be achieved through yoga, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, cognitive therapy, biofeedback, good music, spending time in the nature, camping, making love, and working on a nice project or hobby.
Communication therapy: a major source of psychological stress resides in the world of communication. In fact, most of life’s stresses and problems are rooted in communication disorder. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what to say or someone wasn’t talking to you, you know the stress associated with poor communication. Taking courses or reading communication books can be of great help to improve our quality of life, our relationships and reduce a great source of stress. However, just having a good friend or loved one with whom you can freely talk about your stress can be a great stress reliever. Personally, I have found cognitive therapy to be of great help in relieving chronic stress in my life. Studies have even shown a 70 percent improvement in stress symptoms after 12 weeks of cognitive therapy.
Nutrition – A bad diet can ruin a good digestive system. Poor nutrition can be a source of biological stress, but eating the right foods can also help curb the effects of stress. In general, it helps to eat more protein and salt when stressed. In fact, soldiers in the military must eat a diet rich in protein to mitigate the catabolic effects of combat. So it’s best to take a two-sided nutritional approach, in which you avoid junk food that increases your stress and eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods that help replenish a stressed body.
Choose your battles – An interesting thing in life is that problems seem to be valuable. If we had no problem, we would be existentially bored. So the goal is not to remove all problems and stress from our lives. Instead, we must choose our problems wisely. For example, starting a new satisfying relationship will have its challenges, but in the end, the problems are usually worth it. The same goes for starting a new project or goal. A good rule of thumb is that any given condition in life would ideally be 80% pleasure with 20% pain, with pain being the optimal amount of stress that makes us like it and helps us grow.
Mental and emotional stress can cause many problems for a healthy digestive system. Stress as a whole is inevitable, it seems to be a natural part of the game of life. The important thing is how we react to our stress and our problems, and that in the end we prevent it from becoming chronic. If you know that you are under too much stress and / or have symptoms of digestive stress, these tips will help. If stress management is the issue, there are cognitive therapists, yoga instructors, and medications that can provide verified help.