Stress is wrecking your digestion

|

Ryan Day Coaching

Have you ever been so nervous that you couldn’t eat?  Have you ever been so stressed with a work deadline that you weren’t hungry and skipped dinner?

If the answer is yes, you’ve experienced how stress can affect your digestion.  

But why does this happen?  

First, we need to establish that your gut and brain are connected and communicate with each other.  

Next, we need to understand the difference between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems (bear with me for a second on the science).  

The sympathetic nervous system is what triggers that “fight or flight” feeling when you encounter some sort of stressor.  The parasympathetic nervous system essentially does the opposite by calming your body after the “danger” has passed.

Well, anytime that you go into fight-or-flight mode, your body diverts most of its attention and resources to figuring out how to handle the stressor. Unfortunately, your poor ole’ digestive system gets turned down or even turned all the way off when this happens.

Now imagine that each day brings on a new, little stressor.  Or maybe imagine that each day brings on a bunch of new stress.  Or maybe, just maybe, you don’t have to imagine because, well, that’s kinda how life goes sometimes.

Now let’s think about your poor ole’ digestive system again, constantly getting turned off and turned back on. Turned off and back on. Over and over. Every day.

See how this could be problematic?

The more your body is put into fight-or-flight, the harder your digestive system has to work to recover.  Often, this ends up causing serious gastrointestinal distress that might show up as acid reflux, gas, diarrhea, stomach pain, heartburn, throwing up, nausea, and the list goes on.

It still baffles me that the two are so intertwined, but also makes total sense.  

What also makes total sense is working to reduce the negative effects of stress through some simple stress management techniques. (Maybe not my best segue, but here we are nonetheless.)

Techniques to Reduce Stress & Improve Digestion

Exercise

Perhaps the single best way to reduce stress is regular exercise.  Moving your body has such a positive impact on your hormone profile, while plays a huge role in your body’s stress response.  

That said, too much of anything can be bad and exercise is no different.  Pushing your body to the absolute limits every day is probably just gonna make your digestion and stress worse, so don’t go too crazy.

Nutrition

Fueling your body with nutrient-dense, whole foods is also great for balancing out your hormones and promoting a healthy stress response.  Focusing on foods high in protein or fiber will usually give you the most “bang for your buck” per calorie.  

Some of my favorites are chicken, eggs, berries, vegetables, avocado, kiwi, apples, cherries, grass-fed beef, oatmeal, rice, greek yogurt, and beans.

Sleep

Sleep is underrated, especially for you sub-30-year-olds reading this.  Thinking you can constantly get by on little sleep or low-quality sleep will eventually catch up to you.  

Taking control of your sleep by establishing a bedtime routine and creating a healthy sleep environment will do WONDERS for your sleep quality and quantity.  

Remember earlier when we said that the parasympathetic nervous system helps your body chill out?  Start getting more good sleep and watch your digestion improve.

Mindfulness

I’m using “mindfulness” to cast a wide net that also includes meditation and breathing techniques.  The idea is that taking a few minutes each day to pause, center yourself, and be present can be super beneficial for allowing your body to relax.  

One of my favorite techniques when I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed is box breathing.  

You simply inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and hold for 4 seconds. Repeat this sequence 4 times.  It only takes 1 minute and 4 seconds, but if done a few times throughout the day, you’ll start to notice its benefits on your stress and digestion.  

Pro tip:  After each meal, perform 8 rounds of box breathing, followed by a slow-pace, 5-minute walk.  It’ll take you 7 minutes and 8 seconds, but the benefits will last far beyond that.  

Stress is part of life. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, you can’t. And even avoiding stress is stressful in and of itself.  Stress inception, I call it.  

If your digestion is off, your body isn’t going to be able to properly use all the nutrients you’re feeding it. All too often people accept this stress-ridden, messed-up-digestion life as their body’s “normal” state.  

I’m here to tell you that while this kind of life is common, it’s not normal.  Your body isn’t meant to be under constant stress with chronic GI issues.  

So it’s better that we learn how to handle stress effectively so we can take back control of our health.

That journey begins with understanding how stress can disrupt your digestive system and actively implementing stress management techniques into your daily routine.