Stress and Gut Health

stress and gut health

Does stress really affect your gut health?

When you are under stress
, the sympathetic nervous system responds by releasing the stress hormone cortisol to make the body alert and ready to face the threat – it’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism.  This can affect your digestive system by increasing stomach acid resulting in indigestion, making you feel nauseous and giving you diarrhoea, constipation and/or flatulence.

Studies show that stressful events can sometimes trigger the onset of symptoms, or worsening of symptoms in several quite serious digestive conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and peptic ulcer disease.

Sometimes the way we respond to stress creates further pressure on our guts. Some people comfort eat whilst others resort to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Many people turn to cigarettes – all of these have a negative impact on your gut health and your health in general. 

How can you build resilience to manage stress?

Eat right and exercise 

Think about what you’re eating – some foods can make you feel more stressed than others.  As a rule of thumb, sugary, fatty processed foods are the ones to avoid (even though that doughnut or chocolate bar might feel like comfort food) whilst the gut healthy foods we recommend are the right choice.

Exercise is a proven stress buster and can help put you in a different mindset.  Exercise releases lots of endorphins that make you feel great, it can be the best ‘quick fix’ if you’re feeling under pressure. 

stress gut health and exercise
stress and breathing

Breathe and be kind to yourself

Stress can make you take smaller, shallow breaths that
 don’t get enough oxygen into your body to fully relax.  Breathing techniques where you breathe more slowly and deeply from your abdomen can really help.  

Keep a check on your internal dialogue and any negative thoughts you may be having. Rather than dwelling on the terrible outcomes think about how you might realistically tackle the scenario; for example, rather than thinking, “I know I’ll trip up and make a mistake”, tell yourself, “I’m ready and prepared, I can handle any problems.” 

Use your time wisely 

Have some ‘me’ time 
doing something you really enjoy. If necessary, make a plan to ensure you incorporate this into your hectic schedule. Whether it’s having a relaxing bath; spending some quiet time reading a book; attending a yoga class; meeting a friend or playing with a pet. Be proud of saying no – it’s so much better to explain you don’t have the time or capacity than to get yourself stressed out and possibly failing or doing a substandard job. You don’t need a protracted explanation that feels like an elaborate excuse; a simple and polite “I wish I could but I’m at full capacity right now” is usually enough. 

stress gut health and mindfulness

Further Reading / References 

Mental Health UK Stress Study
Labour Force Survey
Stress and Gut Diseases
Breathing Techniques for Stress 

Please note: The contents of this website are provided for you as information. It is not intended to replace advice from a qualified professional. We encourage you to make health care decisions based on your own research and in partnership with a qualified professional.

Want to learn more? 

Read our blogs on stress and gut health.

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