Stress And The Sensitive Gut
Psychotherapy may help ease persistent gastrointestinal distress.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders affect 35% to 70% of people at some point in life, women more often than men. These disorders have no apparent physical cause such as infection or cancer yet result in pain, bloating, and other discomfort.
Multiple factors biological, psychological, and social contribute to the development of a functional gastrointestinal disorder. Numerous studies have suggested that stress may be particularly important, however. The relationship between environmental or psychological stress and gastrointestinal distress is complex and bidirectional: stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa. This is why psychological therapies are often used in combination with other treatments or even on their own to treat functional gastrointestinal disorders.
The enteric nervous system as a second brain
Psychotherapy options for gastrointestinal distress
Cognitive behavioral therapy . This standby of psychotherapy helps patients to change counterproductive thoughts and behavior and learn coping skills to better manage stress and anxiety. CBT may be most useful in helping patients to cope with persistent gastrointestinal distress, rather than reducing pain.
The Concerning Symptoms Of Anxiety And The Anxiety Loop
When stress hits and your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens or you start trembling, it can be alarming. So alarming that, in some cases, you might even feel anxiety about your anxiety symptoms. This can lead to a worsening of the anxiety you’re already feeling.
When anxiety hits, try to calm yourself with these tips:
- Take deep, controlled breaths
- Close your eyes and try to clear your mind
- Release tension from your body by relaxing
- Accept your anxiety, challenge the validity of your concern and try to shift your focus
If your symptoms become severe, including chest pain and/or shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention at an emergency room even if you think it’s related to anxiety.
And, if you’re experiencing general anxiety more frequently than usual, consider talking to your doctor or finding a mental health provider especially if it’s disrupting your day-to-day life. He or she can help you understand why anxiety happens and what to do about it.
How To Manage It
Getting help for anxiety can make a big difference in both mental and physical symptoms. Talking to a mental health professional is a good first step.
A therapist can help you find the treatment that best fits your needs, whether its therapy or a combination of therapy and medication. Some people who experience GI symptoms and anxiety or depression find that antidepressants help with both sets of symptoms.
Certain lifestyle changes could also help you manage symptoms of anxiety. Some tips that may be especially helpful for diarrhea and other stomach issues include:
- avoiding alcohol and tobacco
Its also important to know how to cope with anxiety and stress as you experience it. If youre working with a therapist, they can help you explore coping methods.
On a larger scale, it may also help to take inventory of your daily tasks, both at home and at work. If they feel overwhelming, set aside time to go over your responsibilities. Ask yourself if theyre essential, or if theres anything thats adding unnecessary stress to your life.
Can increased self-care or division of responsibilities reduce your load? Sometimes, taking a careful look at everything youre dealing with can help you find new ways to address challenges. If possible, involve a trusted co-worker or loved one in the process.
You may also want to make an appointment if:
Recommended Reading: Can I Get A Service Animal For Anxiety
How Does Anxiety Cause Stomach Problems
Have you heard about stomach problems due to anxiety? Even though this might sound strange, stomach problems due to anxiety are very common. Often these stomach problems become chronic, presenting a real issue and a source of frustration for the affected person. It is also very difficult to diagnose anxiety-related stomach issues. How to deal with the stomach problems?
Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Stomach Problems
Stress and anxiety are so common in our lives in the 21st century that we might not always be aware of them. Daily challenges, endless emails, traffic jams, they all contribute. The issue with these stressors becoming normal is that we stop noticing them. Our brains tune them out.
A very common theme for those with digestive symptoms is that they feel the stress in their gut. This often happens before they feel the stress emotionally. The daily stresses can impact our digestive function through various pathways and its the bloating or churning feeling in the stomach that can be the first warning sign of our stress levels.
This happens mainly through the gut-brain axis. This is a communication pathway that runs between the brain and the digestive system. The role of this pathway is to monitor and integrate gut functions as well as to integrate the parts of the brain responsible for emotional and cognitive function.
When under stress or feelings of anxiety begin to rise, our limbic system becomes activated. Once activated, this then signals to the adrenals glands to release the hormone cortisol.
Cortisol has many roles. These include altering metabolism to increase the energy available to escape the perceived threat. As well as increasing heart rate and respiratory rate, again to provide higher levels of oxygen to power the escape. This is what we would consider the fight or flight response.
You May Like: How Do I Stop Heart Palpitations From Anxiety
How Do I Know If Its Anxiety And Not An Ulcer
Its not uncommon to find yourself concerned that your struggle with stomach pain is not from anxiety or stress at all. For example, you may find yourself concerned that instead of anxiety, what you are really struggling with is an ulcer.
Only a doctor can diagnose whether or not your pain is from an ulcer, but there are some clues. The clearest signal is if you have any blood in your stool or acid burps . Thats often a clear sign of an ulcer. Also, if the pain or discomfort tends to occur after eating and isnt related to a similar condition, GERD , its possible you may have an ulcer.
However, this is complicated by the fact that ulcers can be caused by long-term stress and anxiety, as they stimulate the production of extra stomach acid. This excess acid in the stomach breaks down the gastric or intestinal lining and cause open wounds that may harm your health.
Indigestion Caused Due To Anxiety
People that are suffering from persistent anxiety are likely to suffer from stomach problems like indigestion issues. However, the prime mechanism that leads to indigestion during anxiety is still vague, but it is thought to occur from the following reasons.
- Adrenaline Adrenaline is the chemical that is released excessively during anxiety. This chemical compound is liable to make changes in the processing of nutrients, especially the glucose and when the body experiences a change in nutrient processing, it affects the digestion severely and hence leading to stomach problems.
- Neurotransmitters and Hormones As already mentioned, anxiety, digestion and gut is mainly affected by the similar neurotransmitters and hormones. So, when a person is suffering from anxiety, the balance of neurotransmitter and hormones in body gets disturbed, which leads to stomach discomfort and other stomach problems.
- Stomach Acid The stomach acid is also affected during anxiety. The acid reflux is more commonly affected when the person suffers from severe anxiety. The stomach starts releasing excessive stomach acid during stress and anxiety and this increases the production of stomach acid, which causes heartburn and poor digestion.
Recommended Reading: What Is The Best Magnesium For Anxiety And Depression
Sometimes Abdominal Pain Is Physical And Mental
If you have a gastrointestinal condition such as IBS, Crohns disease, or ulcerative colitis, stress or anxiety can exacerbate your symptoms. This can make your physical and mental health even more inextricably linked.
This relationship can be cyclical, Sperling says: Stress or anxiety can prompt gut inflammation and intestinal spasms, leading to more GI symptoms, which can just translate to more stress or anxiety. Its pretty unfair. If you have a GI condition and feel like youre stuck in this rhythm, talk to your doctor to see if theres a way to make your gut and your brain get along a little better so that you dont have to suffer.
Can Anxiety Give You Diarrhea
Absolutely. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that when a person experiences extreme anxiety, the body responds by releasing certain hormones and chemicals in response. These can disrupt the delicate balance of the gut microbiome, leading to diarrhea. In addition, anxiety changes how the brain reacts to signals from the GI tract, causing the brain to misinterpret anxiety as an indication that digestion is moving too slowly. This causes the brain to send signals to speed up digestion, leading to a churning feeling in the stomach and intestines and resulting in loose stools.
Read Also: Why Do I Get Anxiety After Drinking
How To Deal With Anxiety
Here are some tips that can help you control and reduce the stomach signs and symptoms due to anxiety:
- Eat healthyâ Be prepared for stomach issues no matter what you eat, as anxiety often leads to various gastrointestinal problems even when there is nothing in your stomach. However, certain foods can just make these problems get worse.
- Exercise regularlyâ In the beginning, your stomach problems will get worse as physical activity increases stomach acid. However, on the long run, regular physical activity will help you control your anxiety issues and even improve your hormonal balance.
- Breathing exercisesâ They will help you relax and focus on your breathing. These exercises are especially helpful in cases when your stomach issues are caused by hyperventilation and air swallowing.
If your stomach problems are a real issue, then you should seek medical help. However, the most important thing is to control and cure your anxiety. Here are some tips that can help you reduce and eliminate stress:
- Cognitive therapy for stress and anxiety
- Counseling for stress and anxiety
- Keeping a daily journal about things that make you anxious, how you feel at that certain moment and what makes you feel better
- Prioritizing your responsibilities
What Has Science Shown Recently
Science has recently illuminated some fascinating links between the brain and the gut. These insights are helping us to understand the connection between diarrhea and anxiety.
â¢ Anxiety increases the speed of transit of food through the gut. One study showed that generalized anxiety disorder causes physical changes to the digestive system. The transit of food from the mouth to rectum was found to be 14 hours, on average, in anxiety patients â much faster than the 42 hour-average in controls. Anxiety was therefore shown to physically alter speed of transit through the intestines, explaining the link between diarrhea and anxiety.
â¢ Hypnotherapy over Skype reduces symptoms of IBS. Researchers showed that symptoms of IBS improved in 65% of subjects who received hypnotherapy delivered online over Skype, compared to 76% with face-to-face treatment. Although slightly lower, the significant rate of Skype hypnotherapy means access to this form of IBS treatment could be greatly expanded.
Recommended Reading: How To Not Have Anxiety
Try Calming Diffuser Oils Or Incenses
Herbal incenses, or essential oils used as aromatic diffusers, have been known to help some people with anxiety.
Purchase products with calming herbs like chamomile, lavender, vetiver, or rose. Follow the products directions. Combine this with some relaxing time and space for yourself when dealing with a nervous stomach.
What Happens When Youre Stressed Out
- Your gut bacteria changes. Bad bacteria start to flourish, and good bacteria begin to die off. This changes the way foods you eat are digested.
- Your gut gets leakier. When you eat processed foods, some of the molecules escape from your intestine into your immune-processing pathways, increasing inflammation and other problems.
- Your mood changes. Your gut produces even more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin than your brain. But stress cuts its production, leaving you feeling uneasy and at risk of depression.
- Your fight, flight or freeze switch stays on. Diverting all your energy to your muscles helped in prehistoric times: When you saw the woolly mammoth coming, you could quickly run away, hit him on the nose and knock him out, or play dead. After the mammoth moved on, you could relax. Chronic stress keeps your emergency button on all the time. Your digestion remains altered, causing bloating, cramps, diarrhea and constipation.
Don’t Miss: Do Pediatricians Prescribe Anxiety Medication
Can Anxiety Cause Headaches
Headaches are associated with chronic anxiety.
Headaches are common in and of themselves, but they aren’t necessarily a common symptom of the general anxiety you might feel here and there.
However, headaches including migraines can be a complication of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder . This type of anxiety disorder is characterized by persistent, excessive worrying that disrupts a person’s day-to-day life.
Link Between Anxiety & Stomach Problems & Ways To Deal With It
Mind and body are sophisticatedly integrated with each other. They work in collaboration and transfer every function fundamental to our life. When the body is sound, the brain is sound and vice versa. In this way, mind and body are trapped in an indivisible relationship.
On the contrary, if the body experiences an ailment the psyche excessively gets distressed over some stretch of time. Further, if the mind is unhealthy, it clearly harasses the body segments at either time amid the ongoing illness. Consequently, we can infer that there is basically a physical part associated with mental issues and the other way around. This article investigates the absolute most stomach issues occurred due to anxiety and strategies you can use to stop them.
Also Check: Can I Get Disability For Anxiety And Panic Attacks
Find Space For Yourself To Relax
Ultimately, find time and space for yourself to clear your head and take control of your nervousness, even if it must be total alone time. Dont be afraid to excuse yourself, even from an important event.
If talking to a friend, family member, or loved one helps, do so during this time. Talking with someone you trust can help you overcome anxiety.
Stop Smoking To Prevent Reflux
Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of the food pipe and allow acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction back up, a process known as reflux.
Reflux causes the symptoms of heartburn, and can bring on or aggravate stomach ulcers and inflammatory conditions of the bowel.
Smoking is also an important risk factor for stomach cancer.
Don’t Miss: What To Drink For Anxiety