Have you ever experienced that butterflies in your stomach feeling when you are nervous or anticipating something?
It happens because your gut and your mind are connected.
You might think of stress as being purely psychological, but there is a biological reaction to stress too and part of that reaction affects your digestive system.
When we are in a stressed state the body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream initiating several responses in the body.
Acute stress causes blood to surge to the arms and legs and away from other parts of the body so that we are ready to flee whatever is stressing us. This has the effect of slowing down or stopping digestive functions. When we face less severe stress, like the anticipation of public speaking, it can also slow or temporarily disrupt the digestive system, often causing abdominal pain or other symptoms.
When the digestive system is suppressed, it can inhibit the body from being able to absorb nutrients effectively.
Another biological symptom of stress is the release of glucose and fat into the bloodstream so that the body has the energy to run away. But if we are not running anywhere, the sugar remains in the bloodstream. When we are in states of prolonged, low-level stress – think financial burdens, marital problems or anxiety – fats and sugars can remain in the bloodstream, sometimes resulting in a build-up of fat around the organs and weight gain.
This indicates how inter-connected we are. What goes on in our minds has a direct relationship with what happens in our bodies. Which is one of the reasons why it’s important to acknowledge and process your difficult emotions and work on managing your stress.
Building regular movement, mindset and relaxation activities into your life will help to manage stress over the long term but there are also some simple techniques that you can use around mealtimes to support your digestive health:
- Reduce distractions when you are eating. There is a saying; when eating, just eat. Eating with no phone, television, PC, newspaper or magazine in front of you for at least one meal a day allows your mind to enjoy the sensory experience of eating, and your body to focus on digestion.
- Pause before tucking in. Get in the habit of taking 5 minutes before eating to de-stress and disconnect from whatever has been going on around you using a brief breathing exercise. I like to breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, and breathe out for 4. You’ll find yourself much more in tune with your body, calmer and more centred.
- Sit down and slow down. Don’t eat when you are on the move. Allow yourself a moment to smell the aromas and observe the colours that your plate of food presents. Pause between bites. Savour the flavours and textures and take time to enjoy your food.
Try to bring these tips to mind when you next sit down to a meal. Creating a moment of calm around your mealtimes gives your head a break and your body the best chance of getting the most from what you are eating.
Talking of savouring lovely food, why not check out some of my nutritious and delicious recipes?