Ever find yourself bloated like you’re 6 months pregnant, grappling with heartburn, and oscillating between constipation and emergency bathroom trips? 

 

What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

 

You might want to immediately point fingers at that leftover Thai food or the soda you washed it down with.

 

And while food and drinks can indeed contribute to those pesky gut symptoms, there’s another frequently overlooked culprit: a seriously stressed-out nervous system. 

 

Be it tax season, looming work deadlines, or persistent intrusive thoughts, stress impacts your nervous system, and as a result (you guessed it) — wreaks havoc on your gut. 

 

YOU CAN BE STRESSED AND NOT ‘KNOW’ IT

 

Stress often piles up subconsciously without us even realizing it and while we may say “I’m not stressed”, many of us are so used to dealing with a lot on our plate that we shove down the feelings of overwhelm until it presents itself in other ways like insomnia, gut stuff, lack of appetite, irritability and low energy.

 

So, where does stress come from? Social stressors like those mentioned earlier definitely qualify, but other stressors can include things like:

  • nutritional imbalances
  • poor sleep
  • exposure to pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites)
  • harmful substances in the environment or beauty, personal care or cleaning products
  • too much or too little exercise
  • pharmaceuticals
  • diet consisting of food that comes in bags, boxes or from restaurants

 

Your body can handle a certain amount and type of stress before it starts to break down. This threshold or ‘allostatic load’ varies depending on factors such as your medical history, genetics, family history, and the number of other stressors you’re dealing with at the same time.

 

So before you blame that bloated belly on the meal you just ate, take a super honest evaluation of what’s on your (emotional) plate.  

 

A QUICK LOOK AT “FIGHT OR FLIGHT” 

<I’ll be posting a super deep dive about the gut-brain connection very soon so if you feel like this is just scratching the surface and leaving you wanting more… stay tuned!>

 

THE VAGUS NERVE

Stress can directly affect your gut because the gut and the brain are intricately linked via the Vagus nerve. It’s a direct phone line between your brain, your gut and your microbiome (those trillions of bacteria in your gut that help make your neurotransmitters, regulate your immune system, and more!)

 

When we experience stressful situations, our bodies switch into Sympathetic or “fight or flight” mode—a primal response to perceived threats.  The Vagus nerve is not only in charge of being the messenger but it also calms down the body after a stressful event. 

 

While our ancestors used this response to stay alert and safe from mountain lions and sabertooth tigers, modern stressors such as tax deadlines or traffic congestion trigger the exact same bodily reaction.

 

When in fight-or-flight, blood is directed to vital areas like the heart, lungs, arms, and legs—and not our digestive system.  Digestion becomes a low priority when our lives are “on the line”.

 

WHAT HAPPENS TO DIGESTION WHEN WE ARE STUCK IN FIGHT-FLIGHT?

  • Decreased blood flow to stomach, liver, and intestines
  • Reduction in saliva which leads to poor carb digestion
  • Decreased stomach acid production, which leads to inefficient digestion, bloating, and increased chance of bacteria and parasites making it to the intestines
  • Decreased gut motility leading to constipation or delayed gastric emptying
  • Changes in gut microbiome composition and function
  • Increased susceptibility to gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, indigestion, and discomfort
  • Poor nutrient absorption due to reduced digestive enzyme secretion and slowed transit time through the intestines

 

Many of us are stuck in this “go-go-go” mode, which can wreak havoc on our digestion and overall health. That’s why it’s important to understand this gut-brain connection and treat both your nervous and digestive systems together to see real results.

 

So, if you’re struggling with digestive problems or anxiety, remember, there’s no magic pill or quick fix. It’s all about making small, consistent changes to support your gut and your mind.

 

Ready to dive in and learn more? Let’s do it!

 

3 SIGNS STRESS IS AFFECTING YOUR DIGESTION

 

1. BLOATING + REFLUX

 

We’ve all been there. It’s more than just “being full”… an intense, ballooning pressure that seems ready to burst. <unbuttons pants>

 

When we are stressed, we produce less stomach acid. Less stomach acid means slower digestion (what up bloat-city) and a higher probability that big chunks of food, bacteria and other critters can make it into the bloodstream (hello leaky gut)!  

 

It can either slow down gut motility/movement (constipation) OR it can make an emergency evacuation (diaaaarhea).

 

Stress can make you feel bloated because it slows down how quickly your stomach empties since it’s focus is on survival and sending resources out to fight or flee from those scary bills that need to be paid.

 

This means that food sits in your stomach longer, giving it more time to ferment and produce gas. This gas can then push open the flap between your stomach and esophagus, allowing stomach acid to flow back up into your esophagus and cause that uncomfortable burning feeling we know as acid reflux.

 

WHAT TO DO

If this is the case, slow down while eating, avoid eating at your desk, watching TV or scrolling while eating and CHEW YOUR FOOD. Make each bite liquified before swallowing and wait to put another bite in until you’ve swallowed. Digestion begins in your mouth, and eating too quickly can lead to larger food particles that are harder for your stomach to break down. Eating while stressed can make bloating and reflux worse. Slow down and make eating a meditation!

 

You can also try supplements that contain HCl (stomach acid). My fave is Zypan by Standard Process. Take 2-3 pills five minutes before each meal to help with digestion while you’re stressed.

 

2. CONSTIPATION & SHORTNESS OF BREATH

 

Not pooping for days at a time? Feel like you’re hyperventilating or can’t get a good inhale? This combo is a sign that you’re stressed. When we feel this way, we can be struggling to “let go” of things emotionally and it can manifest physically.

 

In Chinese medicine, the emotional aspect of “letting go” is related to the lungs and large intestine. It’s the first thing we do when we’re born (take a breath and poop) and the last thing we do before we die (take our last breath and release the bowels).

 

This is why when we’re stressed, our bodies can tense up. We can find it difficult to go to the bathroom and breathe full, deep breaths. It’s all connected. If you’re waking up between the hours of 3-5 am, that’s the time of the Lungs according to the Chinese medicine clock and a big sign that you need to let some sh*t go!

 

WHAT TO DO

Aside from doing other daily stress management like journaling to process your feelings, holotropic or Wim Hof style breathwork can be a great way to relieve stress and start letting that sh*t go. 

 

3. LACK OF APPETITE AND/OR CRAVINGS

 

Stress messes with appetite and cravings in a few different ways. For some people, stress can cause feelings of anxiety or overwhelm, which can suppress appetite as the body focuses on dealing with the perceived threat. 

 

High levels of the stress hormone cortisol decreases the activity of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which is involved in mood regulation and appetite control. Reduced dopamine can lead to decreased appetite and interest in food.

 

On the other hand, cortisol can also throw off your hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, making you feel hungrier and craving certain foods more intensely. You might notice yourself reaching for snacks or comfort foods when you’re stressed out.

 

Stress-induced eating usually tends towards quick, convenient, and higher-calorie foods. This can create a vicious cycle of being stressed, having cravings, eating junk, messing up your gut, and messing up your microbiome which produces more anxiety.

WHAT TO DO

We need food to fuel our brains especially when you’re stressed. So if stress zaps your appetite, still try to aim for something light and easy like soup or bone broth.  You can also try digestive bitters right upon waking up to help stimulate stomach acid and bile flow which can help stimulate your appetite.

 

If you tend to overeat, focus on eating protein and healthy fats like grassfed, organic, or wild animal proteins and healthy fats like avocados. Avoid keeping highly processed snacks in the house, as they can be tempting targets for quick dopamine hits when you’re feeling stressed.

 

When your stress munchies hit, pause for a moment and ask yourself if you’re genuinely hungry or if you’re trying to fill an emotional void. Feelings of lack, such as not having enough time, fulfillment, money, love, attention, confidence, or worth, can lead us to seek external sources like food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or attention from others to temporarily fill the void.

 

Instead of turning to these temporary fixes, try engaging in activities that nurture your soul or bring you joy, such as meditating, going for a walk, painting, drawing, dancing, reading, or any other activity that redirects your focus away from feelings of lack and toward the abundance around you.

Want to learn more and take on your anxiety DIY-style? Get my Anxiety Freebie!

THINK YOU NEED SOME 1-ON-1 GUIDANCE TO GET YOU BACK TO SLEEPING, POOPING, AND FEELING YOURSELF AGAIN?

 

While it’s great to do your own research and become more empowered with health information that can help you heal, working with a professional can fast-track your healing. 

 

Helping people with gut issues and anxiety are near and dear to my heart because I’ve dealt with them too! I learned a LOT from my own personal experience in addition to my 10 years of studying and practicing Chinese and Functional Medicine.

 

If you’re tired of visiting different doctors who tell you everything looks normal or buying random supplements that don’t make your symptoms go away… let’s chat! 

 

Together we’ll do a deep dive into your unique health needs, get some testing done so we have concrete data on what’s happening inside your body and come up with a plan to help you feel like your healthiest, happiest self.

 

BOOK A FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE SESSION NOW!