Do you suffer from chronic constipation, stubborn IBS symptoms, gas, or bloating? You might be quick to blame your genes or diet, but gut issues and stress are intricately connected.
Recent science tells us that the gut and the brain are linked (ever had the “butterflies” in your tummy when you were nervous?). As it turns out, our gastrointestinal (GI) tract — which includes the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum, and anus — can all be affected by the brain and, more specifically, those stress hormones.
If you’ve ever felt nauseous before a big presentation, it’s not all in your head. Experts from the American Psychological Association say that stress hormones can cause changes in the gut microbiome — the bacterial environment of the GI tract which helps regulate digestive functioning. This means that when you’re feeling stressed out, your ability to digest food and assimilate nutrients from that food becomes hindered. Along with that, a host of other issues can arise.
For one, studies show that high levels of stress can tax the esophagus and cause heartburn and difficulty swallowing. Not only that, but stress can also cause nausea, bloating, pain, and inflammation in the stomach and bowels. An overactive stress response can also damage your intestinal lining — a condition known as “leaky gut” — making your defense against infection- and disease-causing invaders weaker. Experts say a damaged gut lining can lead to a host of other conditions like autoimmune. disease, arthritis, asthma, obesity, acne, and more.
All this information might have you a little, well, stressed out — but not to worry. If you suspect that your stress levels have been a little out of control lately, there are plenty of ways to start taking care of it right at home.
When it comes to relieving your stress, the APA recommends getting enough sleep each night (that’s at least eight hours), keeping a healthy social support network (give those friends and family members a call, or schedule a weekly video chat!), and getting regular exercise.
Additionally, engaging in stress-reducing activities like meditation, journaling, and even fun art projects can make a world of difference. Try out some of these anxiety-busting suggestions, and you’ll be feeling calmer — and healthier — in no time.
This story originally appeared on our sister site, First for Women.