Gut health is central to the overall health of our body. Without optimal digestive function, many other areas of our body can be out of whack. Things like food sensitivities, skin issues, sleep issues, and even anxiety can result from the improper digestive function. The problem is that so many Americans suffer from some form of digestive dysfunction many of which are associated with dietary and lifestyle habits. Stress just happens to be one of the biggest triggers of digestive dysfunction. Think about the last time you were really stressed out. How did you feel? Did you have an upset stomach? Maybe you experienced nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, and a decrease in appetite. This is because stress can directly affect how our digestive system works, so getting stress under control is a huge part of supporting the digestive system.
Let’s take a look at how stress affects digestive health and then talk about some things you can do to start to reduce your stress today.
How Stress Affects Digestive Health
So, how exactly does stress affect digestive health? Many people are stuck in a fight-or-flight response; this occurs when dealing with chronic stress. With chronic stress, the body can no longer differentiate between a perceived and a real threat. The body is then constantly in this state of fight-or-flight which directly affects the digestive system. Digestive function comes to a halt in order for the body to use all of its energy towards fighting off the threat, even if you aren’t actually faced with a real threat. Over time, this can significantly impair your digestive health and can lead to a number of symptoms such as bloating, acid reflux, and poor digestion. It is essential to work to get your body out of this constant fight-or-flight state by practicing some form of stress reduction daily. This will help support a healthy nervous system response and help your body rebalance its stress response.
Another way stress affects digestive health has to do with the stress hormone cortisol. During periods of stress, more cortisol is released. When the stress goes away, cortisol levels should go back to a normal level. However, when you are dealing with chronic stress, cortisol levels may be completely out of whack. High cortisol can lead to weight gain in the abdomen, cravings for sugary and processed foods, and it can directly alter how the body digests food since high cortisol is often linked with that fight-or-flight response that significantly impacts digestion. Reducing stress is such an important step in lowering cortisol levels and getting them back to a level that will not impair digestive function.
How to Lower Your Stress Levels
So, how do you go about lowering your stress levels? Chances are, you already know you need to lower your stress levels, but it’s not always that easy. Life is hectic, and it’s hard to find the time to practice stress reduction. However, there are a handful of ways you can reduce your stress in just a few minutes each day.
- Do 5-minutes or meditation each day.
- Do a 15-minute yoga routine before bed.
- Take a lavender bath.
- Swap caffeine out for herbal tea.
- Get outside for a walk on your lunch break.
- Say no more often. Stop saying yes to everything and start saying no to unnecessary obligations.
- Find just a few minutes each day to do something you enjoy.
- Schedule in a “you” day each month to do something for yourself.
Reducing your stress levels is not only important for digestive health, but it is essential for overall health as well. Stress can lead to inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of nearly all disease. Take the steps to reduce your stress now to safeguard your health for the future and to support better digestive function.
About the Author
Rebecca Jacobs N.C is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant, specializing in digestive and women's health. She doesn't believe in dieting but rather making lifestyle changes, and believes that healthy eating must be delicious. Rebecca is also a recipe developer and creates healthier alternatives to traditionally unhealthy foods.