Ah, the power of stress. Does this sound familiar?
Whether it’s good stress or bad stress, when I am anxious about something, or simply overwhelmed with lots on my plate, I’ll immediately feel it in my gut. My belly will bloat, I’ll get a slight cramp in my side, my appetite will drop, and without being too descriptive, my food just doesn’t digest the way that it’s supposed to. And now, in addition to whatever I’m dealing with, I get to enjoy a full-on stomach ache. How wonderful!
Your stress and your stomach. They ARE related.
If you haven’t heard of the “fight-or-flight response,” it’s simply a physiological, automatic, natural “survival-mode” response that prepares our body to fight or flee in moments of threat (i.e. scary bear in the forest, or the deadline that’s due in 2 hours). This response sets off a series of chemical releases to help you stay safe and deal with the threat. The challenging part is, we (as busy people) over-expose ourselves to DAILY threats, work in high-stress petri dishes, and overwork our system. To paint a clearer picture, here is a simplified illustration of what you need to know about your body and how stress can trigger an upset stomach:
Through our eyes (and/or ears), we see something.
Ding. A brand new bold email appears in your inbox.
Your eyes send a signal to your amygdala (an area of your brain that helps with emotional processing). The amygdala interprets this thing and when applicable, it perceives it as danger.
Crap! Your boss just notified you that she wants the report in two hours, when you were expecting to deliver it tomorrow.
The amygdala sends a signal to your hypothalamus (a “control center” part of your brain that communicates with other parts of your body through the autonomic nervous system that controls involuntary bodily responses like heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure).
Pound. Pound. Pound. Your heart starts to race, you sit up taller, your breath becomes shallow, and your eyes are like a deer in the headlights.
The hypothalamus turns on the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals to your adrenal glands (via the autonomic nervous system).
You decide you can’t flee. You must stay. You choose to fight this battle head-on and you must make it happen.
These glands then shoot off various chemical responses (i.e. cortisol), while certain bodily functions increase and others start to decrease. For example, blood sugar becomes readily available for quick energy, your lungs take in more oxygen, and your sight and vision become as sharp as a needle. All the while, non-important functions take a back seat – like digesting food or reproducing to have babies. On top of that, your hormones are raging and causing cravings for sweets and simple carbs for immediate energy and comfort. No wonder why a large percentage of the “always-on” workforce complain of gastrointestinal and reproductive issues!
All of a sudden, energy comes from nowhere…even at 11pm when you are completely exhausted. Your stomach bloats like a balloon, a cramp begins to form, and for some odd reason you are reaching for a warm cookie or a bowl of salty pretzels to get you through this battle!
Take a deep breath with me now.
Ok that might be overly exaggerated, but you get the idea. Ultimately, you respond to these stressors throughout your day, and in response, various bodily functions increase and decrease. On top of your reproductive system and immune system shutting down, your digestive tract doesn’t function the way it needs to.
Now there are tons of different stress relieving solutions, but to focus on the belly, here are my top 3 natural, soothing food (and drink) suggestions that I reach for when I feel a stomach ache a comin’! (NOTE: We are not doctors and these suggestions are not to replace your doctor’s advice.)
- Warm water. Whether it’s a cup of boiled water that you can sip on, or a warm water pouch that you place over the belly, the comfort of the heated temperature will calm your racing nerves.
- Kombucha Tea. It’s a fermented tea drink with natural effervescence (bubbles) that is loaded with healthy bacteria, vitamins, and minerals – all great for your gut. You can find this in various stores nowadays (i.e. natural grocery stores, Whole Foods, some corner stores, and even restaurants). We love supporting our local favorite, House Kombucha and if you are a recovering soda drinker, this is a great treat!
- Homemade Miso Soup. Miso paste is another fermented food, rich in healthy bacterias that support a healthy digestive tract. I keep a bit in the fridge and can quickly throw together an easy dinner on a busy, stress-filled night that will ease my stomach instantly. Make it yourself, here’s the recipe »
More helpful tips on how to manage stress:
Personal Time, the Whys Hows and Whats
5 Mobility Exercises to Start and End Your Day
Good Things: Summer Self Soothers
What is Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)?
6 Natural Solutions for the Cold and Flu Season
Make Homemade Miso Soup (recipe)