Stress is an everyday occurrence, some days are worse than others and ultimately it’s up to each of us to find out how we can positively deal with stress so it doesn’t get the better of us.
Whatever causes you to stress out, be it roadworks and traffic jams, a sick child or pressure at work, these modern stressors still trigger our central nervous system’s age old biological response to stress, ‘Fight or Flight’.
Essentially this response was intended to get us to confront a perceived threat or escape it, so it made sense thousands of years ago when we were running away from lions. However, in modern times it can be quite taxing on our health because we interact with what stresses us out on a daily basis. While we know we can’t fight traffic or horrible bosses, this doesn’t mean that our body can make this distinction.
This constant exposure means that the ‘Fight or Flight’ reaction doesn’t turn off, so other critical functions and systems in our bodies take a back seat. The enteric nervous system which helps the digestion process from beginning to end is one of the systems that gets ‘short changed’ while our body is engaging the ‘Fight or Flight’ response.
Blood flow to the digestive system is slowed down which affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, secretions needed for digestion like stomach acid decrease and the gastrointestinal lining becomes inflamed.
People need to understand that the digestive system is actually quite complex – so much so that the gut is known as the ‘second brain’ because of the enteric nervous system which consists of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut, or alimentary canal, which measures about nine meters end to end from the oesophagus to the anus. The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. So, we can clearly see that daily exposure to stress causes a chain reaction throughout our bodies.
Fast facts on how stress impacts your digestive system:
- A by-product of the ‘Fight or Flight’ response is cortisol – this hormone actually slows down the digestive process
- Indigestion or ‘functional dyspepsia’ occurs – heartburn, acid reflux, cramps and inconvenient gas
- Past generations thought ulcers were a sign of stress, and they weren’t far from wrong. It’s now known that some ulcers are caused by bacterial infection
- Low stomach acid or hypochlorhydria means that your body is not able to process essential nutrients and can’t kill off harmful microorganisms leading to illness, malnutrition, acid reflux, bloating and constipation.
While there is no magic bullet for stress, we can take a few steps to control it and in the end show your gut some love…
Some proven stress relievers
- Phone a friend – share what’s going on. You can get a fresh perspective while letting you feel like someone has your back
- Breathe – take a break and focus on your breathing. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth – sounds too simple? Ah but it works
- Music – listening to songs that you love and cheer you up is a tried and tested stress reliever especially when you are stuck behind a steering wheel