How is stress related to digestive problems? What can you do in your mind to solve gastrointestinal conditions? What are the most effective tips to improve the functioning of your stomach right now?
You don't need a Ph.D. in physiology to know that stress can affect the stomach. We have all experienced it at one time or another, intentionally or not. Do you remember the last time you spoke in public? That tingling wasn't in your head.
The impact of stress on the stomach goes beyond indigestion. In recent years, doctors around the world have found a complex connection between the brain and the digestive system. The whole system is extremely sensitive to our humor. In fact, experts can now see it as one of the main culprits in a wide range of digestive problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion and heartburn.
People with digestive problems often scoff at the idea that stress could be the root of all their problems. To them, it sounds like "blaming the victim."
But experts studying the link between stress and digestion aren't looking for people to blame. Instead, they try to find scientific explanations for the most common illnesses in life. Understanding how stress affects our bodies opens up new avenues for the prevention and treatment of many conditions.
How are digestive problems related to stress?
We all talk about "stomach sensations," but only a few can appreciate the strong connections between the brain and the digestive system. The stomach and intestines actually have more nerve cells than the spinal cord, leading some examples to call the stomach the "mini brain." A nervous highway carried directly from the real brain to the digestive system, and messages flowing in two directions. Consider this: Your body's 95 % from serotonin (a hormone that helps control mood) is found in the digestive system, not the brain.
There are well-known reasons why our digestive system should pay a great deal of attention to our brain. In times of stress, our bodies are designed to focus on the things that help us relieve ourselves. When our ancestors had to fight hyenas or flee from bears into caves, they didn't want to waste any energy on less important things like proper digestion.
When the brain feels severely stressed, a cascade of hormones is unleashed that can turn the entire digestive system upside down. Hormones have different and sometimes contradictory jobs. For example, the hormone CRH hormone (short for corticotropin hormone-releasing hormone) is one of the body's main alarms. In situations of maximum stress, the brain pumps CRH to tell the adrenal gland to start producing steroids and adrenaline, chemicals that can give you the strength and energy to run or fight your way out of trouble.
CRH also reduces appetite, which explains why some people cannot eat when they feel crashed. At the same time, CRH-activated steroids can make a person feel hungry, which is why some people fight stress with ice cream, chocolate, or potato chips.
Clearly, different people have different responses to stress, and there is no way to be sure how a specific situation would affect digestion. But there are some general rules of thumb. In the short term, stress can cause stomach aches, nausea, and diarrhea. In the long term, prolonged stress can aggravate chronic conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and heartburn.
What are the most common stress-related digestive problems?
Stress is especially problematic for people who have digestive problems without a clear physical cause, known as "functional gastrointestinal disorders" in medical terms. In those cases, every part of the system appears healthy and normal, but still does not function as it should. These disorders are extremely sensitive to stress. They are also extremely common.
A classic example of a functional gastrointestinal disorder is irritable bowel syndrome, a common and complex illness that is often characterized by painful cramps, bloating, and constipation that alternate with diarrhea.
No one knows how irritable bowel syndrome starts, but there is no doubt that stress can make symptoms worse. Stress can contract the colon, triggering stomach pain. It is not entirely clear why people with irritable bowel syndrome sometimes catch colds. One possibility is that stress can occasionally cause uncoordinated and unpredictable contractions. Stress can also make the mind more aware of the sensations in the colon, and since people with irritable bowel syndrome may feel more discomfort due to the additional sensitivity of pain receptors in the gastrointestinal tract, including those in the gastrointestinal tract. Normal contractions can be really unpleasant.
Irritable bowel syndrome can appear from everyday discomforts, especially those that make a person feel tense, angry or overwhelmed. Like other chronic conditions, you are even more sensitive to stress that comes from major life changes, such as the death of a family member or the loss of a job.
Here are some other digestive conditions that can be exacerbated by stress:
- Indigestion. The stomach roars, hurts or burns. Frequent feelings of bloating or nausea, along with vomiting and belching. These can all be signs of an ulcer, although there are millions of people without ulcers who also have these symptoms. Experts know this as "functional dyspepsia," commonly called indigestion. Indigestion is the second most common gastrointestinal disorder, after irritable bowel syndrome. The good news is that they tend to fade when the person is able to relax.
- Acidity. There are many probable causes of heartburn, from overproduction of stomach acids to pizza abuse. Whatever the cause, stress can make heartburn worse.
- Ulcers. Generations of the past thought that ulcers were a sign of stress, and not the truth that they were not far from reality. Most ulcers are known to be caused by a bacterial infection. Some researchers suspect that stress may help the infection settle down, perhaps upsetting the stomach's delicate balance of hydrochloric acid and protective secretions, making it more vulnerable to ulcers.
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. These disorders, also known as inflammatory bowel disease, are not caused by stress. But once they appear, a little stress can make symptoms worse.
How to release stress to benefit the digestive system
If your digestive system is not working properly, do not suffer in silence. Discuss the symptoms with your doctor so that a treatment can be prescribed as soon as possible. It will also help you find other underlying conditions that may explain the symptoms.
If your doctor can't find a physical explanation for your digestive difficulties, they may need to calm your mind before you can calm your stomach. Ask your doctor if you would be a good candidate for cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, relaxation therapy, or any other form of counseling. You can do your part to combat stress by eating right, exercising regularly, and getting proper sleep.