Most of us think of digestion in terms of the food we eat. And while the quality of our food certainly affects our digestive health, the impact of stress on digestion cannot be ignored. All the raw foods, enzymes and herbal bitters in the world can’t help you if your digestive difficulties are caused by stress.
How Stress Impacts Digestion
When you become stressed, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released into the body. This typically causes our pulse to quicken and our breathing to become more rapid. What many people don’t realize is that these stress hormones also cause changes in the digestion system, such as:
- decreased blood flow to digestive tissues
- reduced production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes
- heartburn and acid reflux
- stomach pains
- lack of appetite
Chronic stress can produce inflammation throughout the entire digestive system. This can greatly impair your ability to fully digest your food and assimilate vital nutrients. Over the long term, stress can eventually cause chronic digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Stress and Digestion: What You Can Do
Try some relaxation exercises. These simple routines can help reduce the impact of stress on your body and your life. You’d be surprised how refreshed you’ll feel after just a few minutes of practicing relaxation techniques. Try one of these at least once per day:
- Lie down in a quiet place and slowly release the tension in your body. Start by relaxing your face, head and neck. Then move on to relax the shoulders, back, chest, arms, hands, abdomen, hips, legs and feet. Relax one part of your body at a time, and make sure it is fully relaxed before moving on to the next.
- Sit or lie down in a quiet place, close your eyes and practice deep breathing exercises. Simply spend a few minutes breathing slowly and deeply, concentrating on the rhythm of your breath. This is incredibly relaxing and will have you feeling recharged in no time.
Relax before eating. When you sit down for a meal, instead of digging right in, perform a little relaxation ritual first:
- Before you even pick up your fork, take a slow, deep breath and try to release any tension in your muscles.
- Eat slowly and enjoy your food, chewing it thoroughly and focusing on the nutrients and energy your meal is providing you.
- Try not to let yourself dwell on stressful thoughts or situations during your meal. Simply enjoy your mealtime and allow your body to utilize the nourishment it needs.
Reduce and manage your stress. We are often in more control of our daily stressors than we realize. We can’t always change situations that are causing us to feel stressed (although sometimes we can), but we can always choose to deal with them in a way that doesn’t damage our health. This takes great practice (especially if you are a naturally impatient or anxious person like myself), but over time, learning to take things in stride can greatly reduce your overall stress levels.
About the Author: Elizabeth Walling is an independent health researcher and freelance writer. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness on her blog The Nourished Life.