Does Stress Affect My Digestion?

Man has stomach pain

Have you ever had the “butterflies” right before a job interview or presentation at work? This feeling is very common among most people. However, sometimes this notion may lead you to feeling nauseous and could be linked to stress and physical changes in the gut. The stress response can lead to many problems which can negatively impact your mental and physical health, and gastrointestinal issues are no exception. As a matter of fact, digestive issues are some of the most common responses to stress.

How the Brain, Emotions, and Digestive Tract Are Strongly Connected

Stress and other feelings can trigger symptoms in the gut, because the brain directly affects the digestive system. For instance, feeling hungry and thinking of food can make a person start salivating.

The gut also directly affects the brain. An upset stomach can send signals to the brain, just as a brain experiencing stress can send signals to the stomach. Consequently, your digestive distress can be the source OR the result of your stress. That’s due to the fact that your brain and your gastrointestinal (GI) system are strongly connected.

If you’re experiencing stomach upset or other digestive system problems, and you or your doctor cannot find any physical cause, it could very well be the result of something related to emotions or thoughts. For effective healing of GI problems, the roles of stress and emotion need to be considered.

How Does Stress Specifically Affect Your Digestion?

When you are faced with a potentially threatening situation, your nervous system that regulates autonomic functions (like your breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure) responds by creating a “fight-or-flight response.” As a result, a stress hormone (called cortisol) is released to make your body alert and prepared to deal with the threat.

Physiological changes happen during this response: your awareness intensifies, your breathing and heart rate go up, your blood pressure increases, and your blood cholesterol rises as well. Your muscles tense and your digestive system can also be affected, such as:

  • Esophagus spasms
  • Increased stomach acid, which causes indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation

If stress goes unchecked, more serious GI issues can develop due to decreased blood flow and less oxygen flow to the stomach. This reduction can cause cramping, inflammation, or a gut bacteria imbalance. It can also aggravate GI disorders, including:

  • IBS
  • Ulcers
  • Heartburn
  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Crohn's Disease

Other Ways Stress Can Negatively Impact Your Life

Stress can also affect your mood and behavior. Stress can compromise your immune system due to the cortisol release that occurs during a stress response. The most common results of stress on the body can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Lower sex drive
  • Appetite changes

Ways to Lower Your Stress Levels

Practice a few simple ways to relieve stress to prevent the “fight or flight” response from happening. Relaxing helps you stay healthy and avoid stress that affects your GI system.

  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Watch or read something that will make you laugh or smile.
  • Call a friend or family member.
  • Exercise.

If stress is affecting your digestive system, or GI issues are causing you more stress, you can make an appointment today with Gotham Medical Associates in NYC. Our doctors specialize in treating digestive system conditions in an effective, compassionate manner.

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