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The Effect of Stress on Digestion

Woman holding stomach

Stress can influence the gut

As school starts and our schedules fluctuate once more, many of us can find ourselves dealing with higher than usual amounts of stress.

Balancing all things between work and home is a challenge for anyone, and often that stress begins to manifest itself into physical symptoms – with one of the most common being digestive issues.

How often have you found yourself with your stomach “in knots” during traffic before work, or dealt with nausea prior to a big presentation? These are the classic examples of stress influencing itself on the gut.

Digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system, composed of hundreds of millions of nerves that communicate with the central nervous system. When stress activates the “fight or flight” response in your central nervous system, digestion can shut down because your central nervous system shuts down blood flow, affects the contractions of your digestive muscles, and decreases secretions needed for digestion. Stress can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, and make you more susceptible to infection.

Stress can also increase acid production in your stomach, and if your esophagus begins to spasm, that will lead to heartburn and indigestion. Other organs, like your colon, can react under stressful situations, possibly causing constipation or diarrhea.

Managing Stress

One of the best ways to combat stress is with regular exercise. Even if it’s taking the time for a 20-minute walk after lunch at your workplace, exercise helps to relieve tension and releases “feel good” endorphins to improve your mood.

Controlled breathing exercises can also help greatly in battling stress, especially when you’re caught in the moment. Take a second or two to inhale deeply through your nose, and out through your mouth. Concentrate on relaxing those tense shoulders and become aware of your heartbeat.

Also, keep tabs on your diet and outside triggers. Many people have counted on a drink or two to unwind after a long day, but alcohol’s acidity can further aggravate your stomach. Eating unhealthy foods loaded in trans fats and sugars can act as a source of dietary stress. Maintaining a balanced diet with lean proteins and plenty of whole fruits and vegetables helps to keep your digestive tract happy. Meanwhile, take a look at your life overall and see where stress can possibly be avoided. Whether it’s leaving an extra 15 minutes early to avoid the morning traffic rush, or asking for assistance to carpool the kids to the after-school activities, all of us have areas where we know our schedule – and stress – can be streamlined.

Don’t forget to keep up with your regular chiropractic visits, as well! Chiropractic adjustments ensure that your nerves are functioning at an optimal level, through the correction of subluxations. Huge portions of these nerves are connected to your digestive system. A healthy spine leads to a healthy gut, so be sure to keep all of your appointments, despite your busy schedule.

Dealing with stress is never easy, but recognizing where the difficulties lay can help us handle or even avoid those messy triggers. Stay on top of stress the best that you can – your stomach will thank you!

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