How Stress Affects the Gut

As I have seen time and time again in my own life and in the lives of my clients practice, our mind and gut are connected. This connection actually comes down to physiology – so let’s go beneath the surface and find out the root of the problem. Although researchers don’t know what actually causes IBS (we know there are several factors), we do know that stress, anxiety, and worry can make our symptoms worse. When we get stressed, our body releases a series of hormones and we go into what’s known as a “fight or flight” response. These hormones create a response that directs blood flow away from our digestive system and towards the heart, brain, and skeletal muscles. This response helped to keep us alive when we were cave-people running away from wild animals, but today can be harmful. So essentially, when we are going through a stressful experience, either emotionally or physically, our bodies put less energy into digestion which leads to a variety of symptoms such as cramping, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

Chapter 8 of my IBS Master Plan is all about the mind-body balance. Here is a sneak peek at one of three strategies to help you gest started with your mind-body awareness. This approach will enhance body & symptom awareness and help you identify tension within your body. Mind-body awareness strategies encourage relaxation, improve coping skills, reduce tension and pain,  reduce anxiety, and in some cases even lessen the need for medication!

Simple Breathing Techniques

Pay attention to your breathing as it is one of the most fundamental ways to relieve anxiety and tension. And it’s simple and affordable to learn! Here is my favourite  breathing exercise – try this often, it takes practice to improve your breathing. Remember, this is great for those times that you feel stressed or tense! By slowing down and breathing, you can directly impact symptoms of IBS.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Begin by placing one hand on your stomach and the other one on your chest, and observe which one rises as you breathe in. If you notice your chest rising, it may mean you are breathing too shallowly (most of us do). This type of breathing may contribute to an increase in anxiety and tension. When we engage in ‘Deep Breathing’ we breathe into our diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle, which expands allowing our stomach to rise as we breathe into it.

  • Imagine that you have a bowl in your stomach that you are trying to fill it with air.
  • See that stream of clean fresh air going down all the way into your stomach to fill the “bowl”.
  • Practice breathing deeper until you can
get your stomach to rise consistently on in-breath.

For more strategies on the mind-body relationship, book an appointment with our Digestive Health Specialist Bina Moore – she will help to coach you identify your own stress triggers and implement strategies to relieve symptoms. Also, check out the IBS Master Plan where you will find the full 8 steps to take control of your IBS, reduce symptoms, and finally feel better!

Much love & good eating,

Stephanie and the Team (Erin, Carly, & Vanessa)