Have you ever wondered why your stomach is “tied in knots” when you are anxious? Or why you might have inexplicable diarrhea before doing something stressful? Blame the powerful connection between your digestive system and your brain. Demonstrably, stress can indeed cause a wide range of gastrointestinal problems. And don’t we live through particularly stressful times…
How being stressed-out affects your gut
There’s a reason why the digestive tract is called the “second brain.” In our bodies live trillions of microorganisms that produce the chemicals controlling our moods and mental states. And a whopping 95% of them are located in the large intestine.
These microorganisms snuggling in our guts are practically hard-wired to the brain, which they send signals to by stimulating the nerves in the stomach and the intestine. No wonder that, when you’re anxious and they go on “fight-or-flight” mode, your digestive system is affected. One of your body’s first responses is to slow digestion down – or even to stop it completely – which in turn may cause cramps, nausea, a bout of diarrhea, bloating or even more serious inflammatory issues like ulcers or acid reflux.
While stress can disrupt digestion in only two hours, major stressful events can continue to affect your guts long after they’ve passed. A prolonged pandemic certainly qualifies as a major stress trigger, and a number of scientists are already observing the severe impact of Covid 19-related anxieties on gastroenterological symptoms – even on healthy people.
How to protect your gut from stress
Understand how stress affects you. There are three stages of stress: alarm, resistance and exhaustion, and each triggers a hormonal response. The fact that the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing means that stress becomes chronic and that your body is not allowed to return to its normal functioning, exacerbating the symptoms.
Avoid reaching the exhaustion point by adopting stress mitigation techniques such as mindfulness, physical activity and healthy eating habits.
Lastly, restore the balance of your gut flora, where microorganisms live, by taking probiotics. These “good” bacteria can alter the gut microbiome’s makeup, support digestion and help reduce stress-induced intestinal flare-ups.