I’ve struggled with bloating, loose stools, diarrhea, stomach pain, constipation, and nausea for years. Maybe you can relate. While many of my symptoms have been alleviated by cleaning out a parasite (pesky little bugger) and supporting my happy microbiota clan, I still deal with bouts of bloating, upset stomach, gas, and loose stools. Why is that? How is it that lying down with a hot water bottle is sometimes the best medicine to ease my belly bloat?
Well, researchers and my hot water bottle both agree that all this digestive upset may be a gut feeling. Like butterflies in your stomach or nervous poos, your brain and gut communicate constantly. What you feel on an emotional level effects how you feel physically on a digestive level.
This communication takes place through the gut-brain axis, and some people, like me, have a more hypersensitive gut-brain axis than others. Basically, whether you feel nervous, scared, angry, or depressed, your brain is sending specific nerve signals to your gut, known as the enteric nervous system or “second brain.” These nerve signals are getting picked up by your 100 trillion microbes and they immediately adjust your digestive process accordingly. Like most nerve signals when heightened, you begin to feel more gut sensations such as butterflies or knots in your stomach when you’re nervous. In fact, different emotions have different digestive responses. Here are some common examples:
Fear, nervousness, and anxiety tend to slow digestion in your stomach, while speeding up digestion in your intestines. Back in the day when humans were fighting or fleeing for their life, it was puke and poop time, because the body wanted to eliminate everything it could to make it light and fast. Thankfully, your life situations and reactions may not be that extreme now; however, many of you can relate to an upset stomach or loose stools before a big presentation.
Anger tends to speed up digestion in both the stomach and intestines. This can lead to undigested food in your stool, loose stools, and/or diarrhea.
Depression, sadness, and shame will slow down digestion in both the stomach and intestines. This can lead to reflux-type symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, and/or vomiting, as well as constipation.
While it’s good to know that your digestive issues may be a result of you feeling sad about an argument with your significant other, it’s even better to know what you can do to lessen your symptoms. My go-to for immediate relief is deep breathing with my hand on my belly (or a hot water bottle if I’m at home). For other ways to tap into the vagus nerve, our communication highway for the gut-brain axis, click here.
I’d like to hear from you. Please comment below or send me an email with your biggest take away from this blog. Also, if you’d like to work with me on how to ease your digestive issues, please reach out—I’d love to help.
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With love, Steph
Mayer, E. (2016). The Mind-Gut Connection: How the hidden conversation within our bodies impacts out mood, our choices, and our overall health. HarperCollins.