Do you find that stress and indigestion go hand in hand? If you do, it’s not just your imagination. As scientists learn more about the brain-gut connection, they are finding that there are a myriad of pathways that connect these two systems. Stress that begins in the brain can manifest as stomach ache, heartburn, reflux or even irritable bowelbowel. The gut can be negatively affected by a single, stressful event or an accumulation of small, daily stressors.
When it comes to the link between the nervous system and digestive system, there seem to be more questions than answers. What is certain, however, is that the link is strong. The gut is often referred to as “the little brain” because it is the largest area of nerves outside of the brain.
If you think that your digestive issues may be rooted in stress, here are six stress-reducing tips:
1. Incorporate relaxation into your day. Whether you use meditation, yoga, prayer or another method, choose an activity that relaxes you and perform that activity at the same time each day. You may want to begin your day with meditation and attend a yoga class after work.
2. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” Taking on too many responsibilities can cause considerable anxiety and digestive distress, so make sure to leave time in your schedule for rest.
3. Keep a journal. Journaling daily will help you gain an understanding of patterns that may be affecting your stress. See if you can identify the cause of your stress. Is it a relationship? A boss you can’t seem to please? A long commute? If you isolate the source, you can make changes to eliminate stressors from your life.
4. Find a confidante. Talking through your stress with a trusted friend or family member can be a good way to relieve tension and solve problems. Ask your confidante to remind you of all the good things going on in your life as well. Sometimes it’s easy to just focus on the negative.
5. Call your doctor. Stress can have an adverse effect on your sleep patterns and eating habits which can damage your health. You may need the support of your primary care physician and gastroenterologist.
6. Be willing to take action. Reducing and eliminating stressors from your life can be difficult, but change may be necessary for your digestive health to improve.