You may be wondering if stress and anxiety can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, or bloating. Sadly, yes, but there are ways to calm a nervous digestive system. The human gut is very vulnerable to stress. Studies have shown that both chronic and acute stress can induce changes in gut motility, mucosal permeability, visceral sensitivity and gastric secretion. There is also enough evidence to prove that the gut microbiota is capable of responding directly to host signals triggered by stress.
The Human Gut is a Mini-Brain
The intestinal mucosa is known by experts to be permeated with myenteric plexus which is made up of several neuron cell bodies and nerve fibers that can be influenced by the brain’s signaling system. the number of nerve cells found in the intestines and the stomach are greater than what the entire spinal cord has. This is why some experts refer to the digestive system as the “mini-brain.”
There is a “highway of nerves” that run from the brain that is located inside the head directly to the “mini-brain” which is the digestive system resulting in the rapid flow of messages between them. Fully 95 per cent of serotonin, which is a hormone that regulates the mood, can be found in the body’s digestive system while 5 percent or less of it is found inside the brain.
What this means is that the gut is also an integral part of the body’s nervous system. In turn, this means that emotions, via the brain and released hormones, can affect in one way or another the functioning of the gut.
Gut Health is Vulnerable to Stress
This is why when a person is under stress he may find himself experiencing feelings of butterflies in the stomach. There are also individuals who experience nausea or even need to vomit whenever they’re nervous or find themselves in a highly-stressful situation. This brain-gut connection also explains that “gut-feeling” many people experience from time to time.
Harvard researchers also say that not only stress but also other negative emotions such as sadness, anxiety and anger that can also cause the emergence of full-blown stomach problems. In other words, psychological factors combine with our physiology to bring about bowel distress.
This is because psychosocial factors can directly affect the physiology of the gut causing the onset of several symptoms. So, when an individual experiences stress, which is a psychological factor, the contractions of the gastrointestinal tract are also affected. Sufficiently repeated stress can result in inflammation while also increasing the risk of infection.
Effects of Stress on the Digestive System
Researchers have further documented seemingly unrelated digestive conditions that are aggravated by stress.
Heartburn – findings from a study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine revealed that people who have just gone through a major stressful life-changing event were found to experience worsening of their symptoms within a period of four months.
Crohn’s Disease – A group of Canadian researchers conducted a study on 552 people who are suffering from Crohn’s disease. Findings revealed that the risk of their symptoms flaring increased whenever they are experiencing some amount of stress.
Indigestion – Cleveland Clinic reports that the symptoms of indigestion worsen when people are under excess stress but these symptoms can be alleviated through relaxation techniques.
An aware person can take heart from knowing that by actively working to reduce the effects of stress on their emotional state, they can also lessen or even eliminate some of their distressing abdominal conditions.
Anxiety and Tips on How to Calm a Nervous Digestive System
Many people with anxiety have problems with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and managing anxiety and IBS symptoms can be addressed through diet. Irritable bowel syndrome develops when the muscles and nerves in a person’s intestines have become extra sensitive. One of the most common causes of IBS is stress and anxiety. Statistically, women are more prone to develop IBS than men.
IBS is divided into three main types, each highlighting the most dominant symptom. These categories are as follows:
- IBS-C: Constipation
- IBS-D: Diarrhea
- IBS-A: Diarrhea and Constipation
People with IBS can change types over time, so a person may start out with one kind of IBS and end up with another. If left untreated, irritable bowel syndrome can have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life and may lead to such complications as hemorrhoids or anxiety and depression.
Following a treatment plan can help prevent these problems, and one of the most important parts of any IBS treatment plan is sticking to the right kind of diet plan.
The same applies to anxiety. Diet is so important, so here are some diet tips for treating IBS and anxiety symptoms.
Adhere To Your Regular Mealtime
Skipping meals is a big no-no for people with IBS. Skipping meals can allow time for more air to enter the digestive system and make a person with IBS more vulnerable to bloating and cramping.
Therefore, it’s important to eat breakfast every morning, and it also helps to have snacks in between regular meals. However, noshing on junk foods during snack time can only worsen your IBS and anxiety symptoms. Eat healthy foods and beverages at all times.
Eat Modest Portions
Avoid the urge to eat oversized portions at every meal time. Otherwise, you will only be inviting more symptoms of IBS such as stomach cramps and diarrhea. Taking smaller portions can prove to be helpful for reducing the symptoms of IBS.
Eat Slowly and Relax
Those who have the “eat-and-run” habit are more likely to experience IBS symptoms. Mindful eating is a must for people with IBS and anxiety. Never eat in a hurry. Take your time and relax so your body can digest the food properly.
Eat Fiber-Rich Foods
Your body needs more fiber in order to regulate the workings of your digestive system. However, avoid fiber supplements and opt for fresh, natural produce instead. Strawberries, pears, carrots, flaxseeds and lentils are few examples of foods that are rich with soluble fiber.
Another good thing about loading up on fiber is that it makes you feel fuller for a longer period of time thus helping prevent any cravings and binge eating. Many people with anxiety crave “comfort foods” so by eating fiber-rich foods, you lessen the chances of feeling hungry.
Drink More Water and Forget the Soft Drinks
This may sound too elementary but some people just don’t realize the importance of sufficient water intake. Whether you are experiencing constipation or diarrhea, water can greatly relieve those symptoms. However, steer clear of sweetened and fizzy beverages because these will only add gas to your digestive system. Knowing what foods are triggering your symptoms of IBS and anxiety will certainly help you manage your condition.
A good start is to just stay away from those foods! Sticking to these diet tips can help relieve your IBS and anxiety symptoms. One may certainly be causing the other.
How do you calm a nervous digestive system? Please leave your comments below and share them with other stress and anxiety sufferers.