Stress and gut health

You might be familiar with the signs of stress, but can you recognize when it is impacting your gastrointestinal health?

There’s a reason they call it a “gut-wrenching” decision. Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances and can worsen with time or in repeated instances. It can show up in a variety of ways, affecting your entire body. Physically, stress can be felt in symptoms including headaches, body tension, high blood pressure, or weight loss. It can also affect your mental health, with an estimated 84% of Americans reporting at least one feeling of prolonged stress in the previous two weeks. With ever-increasing demands and responsibilities both in the workplace and in personal lives, here’s what to look out for in your digestive health as it relates to stress.

Stress can trigger the “fight or flight” response in your body, which can be felt in esophagus spasms, increasing stomach acid (and indigestion), nausea, and diarrhea or constipation. These symptoms can lead to more severe problems including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Gerd. Many people also associate stress with stomach ulcers.

For many of our patients, a cycle that can be hard to break forms between the trigger of stress and IBS or IBD. As sufferers of IBS and IBD know, those symptoms can often increase stress and stressful situations, which can then make those diseases worse.

While it’s always a good idea to bring any concerns to your doctor, here are 3 ways to manage your stress at home.

  • Exercise. Whether in the gym with a routine, or simply going for a walk regularly, physical activity can help to reduce tension while also releasing endorphins to help boost your mood and lower stress levels.
  • Healthy Diets. We’ll always recommend a healthy diet, eating balanced meals of protein, vegetables, healthy fats, and omega-3s, but you’ll notice an improvement in your gut health when you incorporate more healthy foods. Not only does it provide your body with essential nutrients and vitamins, it takes some of the pressure off of your digestive system by making it easier to break down your food.
  • Meditation/Yoga. This one has increased in popularity as stress levels have increased across the country. You can find many great resources (and free ones!) on the internet for gentle yoga flows and guided meditation. Start small with just 2 or 3 minutes, and grow into 15 minutes or more of meditation. Taking time to rest, relax and restore will help calm your mind and body.
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