3 Ways Stress Affects Your Digestive System

Have you ever been so stressed that you feel sick to your stomach, unable to eat anything at all? Or maybe you’re the type of person who reaches for food during times of stress. Everyone’s stress response is a little bit different, but there’s one undeniable fact: Stress can affect how we eat, and it can also mess with the microbiome in your gut—and your digestion.

Of course, not all stressors are the same. Some, like getting a flat tire on your way to work, are short term. In this case, you might experience a low appetite and your digestion may slow down. Long-term stress—perhaps things like preparing for a major presentation over a few weeks or grieving after the death of a loved one—can also affect your gut. They may also be more severe, and it’s possible to experience symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, or indigestion. 

Finally, chronic stress is prolonged, and can have severe consequences on the body. In the gut, it may lead to the development of gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, though the effects don’t stop there. Chronic stress can also increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression.

Hopefully you’re already finding ways to deal with your stress in a healthy way. However, if you’re still experiencing GI symptoms, there are some steps you can take to alleviate them that you may not have thought of. 

Quit Smoking

By now you’ve surely heard about the dangers of smoking, which include heightened risk for heart and respiratory diseases. However, what you might not know is that smoking has also been linked to digestive problems, too.

Smoking can contribute to or exacerbate common digestive disorders like heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease (more commonly known as GERD), and peptic ulcers. Smokers also have an increased risk of Crohn’s disease. However, quitting can reverse some of the side effects on the digestive system.

Practice Mindfulness

It’s important to take care of your mental health every day, but especially during times of stress. Carving out time for yourself is vital, and studies suggest that developing an increased awareness of your daily life through mindful meditation may aid in digestion. Scientists believe meditation and deep breathing exercises may help with inflammation, which in turn can help with a stressed-out digestive system.

Don’t Forget About Probiotics

The bacteria that live in your gut are an essential component of a healthy digestive system. Prebiotics and probiotics promote good gut bacteria. Prebiotics include fruits and vegetables like asparagus, bananas, garlic, and onions, which contain inulin. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, yogurt, and tempeh contain probiotics. However, you can also get your daily dose of probiotics by taking certain dietary supplements, too.

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