Updated: Mar 25
Have you ever been in a situation where you have an exam or an important presentation at work and kept going to the toilet every 5 minutes?
Or have you ever experienced a sudden loss (including a break up) and felt sick in your stomach?
We all know intuitively that stress affects our digestion, and we’re quick to connect the two things when we’re going through a period of particularly intense stress or had some sort of emotional shock. But what about “normal” daily life?
Less severe stress also affects the digestive system, and this is possibly much more dangerous than the obvious intense one. This is because “micro” stress is much more silent, stays in the background, and we kind of learned to just live with it as it was normal. The problem is that, over time, it can create major health issues.
Low-grade stressors can be things like: a poor diet, lack of sleep, negative self-talk, medication, and low functional anxiety or depression, to name a few common ones.
Stress can affect the digestive system on different levels:
1) It can affect the bowel movements, making it faster or slower than it should, and sometimes even stop them. Consequently, either the gut doesn’t have enough time to absorb the nutrients we need for optimal health, or we become constipated, which means that the body cannot detox efficiently. This can also lead to gas, bloating, stomach pain, and weight gain.
2) Can stress and anxiety cause diarrhea? Stress can also affect the stomach and cause heartburn or make us more prone to stomach bacterial infections. For instance, a 2018 study involving more than 19,000 people found that those with anxiety were more likely to experience GERD symptoms.
Anxiety may reduce pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the band of muscle that keeps the stomach closed and prevents acid from leaking into the esophagus.
Stress responses and anxiety may cause long lasting muscle tension. Anxiety and diarrhea affects the muscles around the stomach, it could increase pressure in this organ and push the acid up.
High anxiety levels may increase stomach acid production.
3) It affects the immune system. 60% to 80% of our immunity is in the gut and it is carried out by the good bacteria that reside along the digestive tract. The stress response produces a chemical reaction that kills those good bacteria, and when that happens, we are in trouble. You can read about the gut flora and its importance for good health and weight loss in this other blog post.
4) When we are stressed, more blood goes to the limbs and the brain so that we can carry on our fight or flight response. So less blood is available for the other functions, including digestion.
One of the major stress hormones released when you are in a stressful situation is cortisol. This hormone boosts abdominal fat and along with insulin, is responsible for stress-related food cravings. There is actually a theory called “reward-based stress eating”. The theory is that when we experience stress and turn to high-calorie foods or “comfort foods” for comfort, we cause our brain to make chemicals called endogenous opioids. These are neurotransmitters that help protect against the harmful effects of stress by slowing down the brain process. When we repeat this process we stimulate reward pathways that lead to changes in the brain and cause chronic overeating.
At this point, it has become quite evident that decreasing your stress levels should be your top priority. Not only if you want to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable weight, but also if you aim to live a long and happy life.
There are a great number of things that you can do to decrease your stress levels. Some help to reduce stress long term (like meditation ,yoga, exercise) while some others are quick fixes that can help in moments of need. Of this last category, I have my personal favorites. One is CBD oil, and the other is to use the Cortices Technique, which is one of the techniques of BodyTalk System®.
This tool allows you to decrease your stress levels in only 90 seconds! Check the video below!
Also, there are certain foods that have been shown to reduce anxiety. Salmon contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are natural mood boosters. Almonds are chock full of magnesium, a mineral that helps manage cortisol levels. Click here to have access to 7 Days Plant-Based Stress & Anxiety Recipes .