Listen To Your Gut – What Stress Is Doing To Your Digestive Health

Stress can wreak havoc on your digestive system, with common—and uncommonly uncomfortable—symptoms including stomach-ache, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, nausea and acid indigestion.

Left unchecked, stress can lead to serious gastrointestinal issues. Chronic upset and anxiety may also exacerbate pre-existing ailments like celiac and Crohn’s diseases, stomach ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease.

The State Of The Stomach

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, known as the father of modern medicine, insisted “all disease comes from the gut.” More than 2,000 years later, scientists and physicians continue to learn more about gastrointestinal health. As they do, it becomes clear just how strong the correlation is between belly and brain.

It should come as little surprise. After all, this connection can be heard throughout our language.

When you’re feeling nervous, you have “butterflies in your stomach.” When something is wrong, you feel it “in your gut” or “in the pit of your stomach.”  If you encounter something troubling enough, you may not even “be able to stomach it” at all.

There are some interesting mechanics involved in the mind-gut connection. Strong emotions like fear, sadness and even joy can activate the fight-or-flight response. Adrenaline and other stress hormones flood the body. This distress signal is picked up by nerve endings in the stomach, which can prompt a number of possible physiological changes. These include gastrointestinal contractions, esophageal spasms and stomach inflammation. It can also make us more susceptible to infection.

Fat Chance

In the face of ongoing stress, the metabolism can be seriously weakened. One reason is that in fight-or-flight mode, digestion is suppressed as blood is diverted from the stomach to help us deal with the perceived threat. Stress also causes us to produce cortisol and insulin, hormones that direct the body to store fat rather than build muscle.

“Stress can affect every part of the digestive system,” Dr. Kenneth Koch—medical director of the Digestive Health Center at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center—told EverydayHealth.

How Do You Spell Relief?

If you’re overstressed and your stomach is feeling the wrath, there are steps you can take to improve your situation.  

It’s always good to speak with a doctor who can detect if you have any serious stomach ailments. You may also want to go straight to the source and de-stress. If you’re having trouble turning off your anxiety, you may want to see a mental health professional or speak with a therapist.

There are also a number of gentle and mindful activities that can help you unwind. You might practice yoga, meditation and conscious breathing, or spend time in nature. Some people find comfort by journaling or spending time with friends.

Engaging in moderate exercise, both cardio and weight-bearing, is another important way to foster calm. You might schedule regular walks outside or on the treadmill, give water aerobics a try, or commit to something more challenging to burn off mental energy on a regular basis. You can determine which type of physical activity would suit you best, depending on your fitness goals. The Mayo Clinic recommends you exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

Eating A Balanced Diet Can Do Wonders For Combatting Stress

In times of worry, some people tend to binge-eat, looking for relief in fatty, salty or sugary snacks. This will do nothing but make the symptoms of stress worse, especially in your gut, adding nausea, constipation, and diarrhea to the list. This can also be referred to as “stress-eating,” which will only make matters worse as stress levels continue to rise. There are other foods, though, that offer a mood-stabilizing effect, which is ultimately more salutary than the temporary high—and subsequent crash—derived from junk food.

Stress-busters include:

  • blueberries
  • pistachios
  • dark chocolate
  • milk
  • salmon
  • turkey
  • green, leafy vegetables

It’s news that gives credence to another of Hippocrates favorite sayings:  “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Kevin Jones has mastered a busy lifestyle with work and fitness combined with family life. He writes offering solutions for personal fitness and time management as well as keeping families fit together by utilizing activities and diet.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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