We have all been stressed at one point in our life. It is a feeling we get of emotional or physical tension making us feel frustrated, angry, scared, or nervous. One of the most common ways we feel stressed is during our fight-flight response which is a common response in our body when facing adversity or an ultimatum. In brief spurts, stress can be a positive advantage, such as helping us avoid danger or meeting a deadline. However, chronic stress, which lasts a long time, has been harmful to your health. This article will highlight the link between stress and digestion and how that can affect your health.
Stress is a normal feeling. There are two main types of stress:
- Acute stress – this is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you get into an argument with someone, run late to an appointment, or go sky diving. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when doing something new and adventurous. Everyone experiences the effect of acute stress at one time or another.
- Chronic stress – this is a stress that lasts for a longer period of time. You may have chronic stress if you face financial burdens, are stuck in an unhappy relationship, or face a toxic work environment. Chronic stress is defined as a period of stress that is ongoing for weeks or months at a time. Chronic stress has been linked to many health problems, such as digestive issues.
Signs of Too Much Stress
Stress can cause many types of physical and emotional symptoms. Here are some signs that stress may be affecting you:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Frequent aches and pains
- Lack of focus
- Sexual problems
- Stiffness in the jaw
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Upset stomach
- Weight loss or gain
The causes of stress differ from one person to another. You can have stress from good challenges as well as bad ones. Some common sources of stress include:
- Getting married
- Starting a new job
- The death of a spouse or close family member
- Getting fired
- Having financial burdens
- Having a health setback
Stress and the Body
When your body is in a state of stress, hormones are released to react to the feeling. These hormones have various effects on your body, causing your body to tense and increase your heart rate. The main hormones released in your body are:
What is Epinephrine?
Epinephrine, commonly known as adrenaline, is responsible for our fight or flight response. The adrenal glands produce it after receiving a brain message during high-stress situations. Epinephrine works by increasing blood flow to muscles, pupil dilation response, and blood sugar level.
What is Norepinephrine?
Norepinephrine is a home similar to adrenaline and is also released from the adrenal glands. One of the primary roles of norepinephrine is arousal. It allows individuals to become more aware, awake, and focused when stressed. It also acts in shifting blood flow away from certain areas such as skin and towards more essential areas such as muscles.
What is Cortisol?
Cortisol is considered a steroid hormone and is often referred to as the stress hormone. The adrenal glands produce it. The body initially takes several minutes to release cortisol due to its multi-step process involving two additional minor hormones.
The amygdala, a part of the brain, has to recognize a threat. It then sends a message to the part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which releases CRH, corticotropin-releasing hormone. CRH then tells the pituitary gland to release ACTH, adrenocorticotropic hormone, which tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.
In survival mode, the optimal amounts of cortisol can be lifesaving. It helps maintain fluid balance and blood pressure while regulating body functions that are not crucial at the moment, like reproductive drive, immunity, digestion, and growth.
However, when you have a problem over a long period of time, the body continuously releases cortisol, and chronically elevated levels lead to health problems. High levels of cortisol in the body are linked to:
- Weaker immune system
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar and Diabetes
- Decrease libido
- Weight gain and Obesity
- Digestion problems
- Heart Disease
- Depression and Anxiety
- Acne and Eczema
- Menstrual Complications
Stress and Digestive Health
A neuron is a nerve cell that receives and sends electrical signals over long distances within the body. It receives electrical input signals from sensory neurons and other neurons. These neurons are what causes the commonly known feelings called “gut feeling” and “butterflies” in the gastrointestinal tract. When the body is stressed, it affects the brain and gut communication triggering pain, bloating, and other gut discomforts to be felt more easily. The gut is also occupied by millions of bacteria, which can influence the gut’s health and the brain’s health, impacting the ability to think and affect emotions.
Stress in the early life of an individual can change the development of the nervous system and how the body reacts to stress. These changes can increase the risk for later gut diseases or create dysfunction within the gut. This means that there is a great importance on stress and digestion.
During periods of high stress, individuals react differently in food intake. Individuals may eat much more or much less than usual. Many also increase their use of alcohol or tobacco. This results in heartburn or acid reflux. Furthermore, the presence of stress on its own can also increase the severity of regularly occurring heartburn pain. Frequent or constant reflux can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD. In rare cases, spasms occur in the esophagus, set off by intense stress, and can be easily mistaken for a heart attack. Stress also may make swallowing foods difficult or increase the amount of air swallowed, which increases burping, gassiness, and bloating.
Chronic stress can cause aching, bloating, nausea, and other stomach discomfort sensed more easily. Furthermore, in severe cases of chronic stress, vomiting may occur. Additionally, stress may cause an unnecessary increase or decrease in appetite. This can cause individuals to turn to unhealthy diets to reduce their weight gain/loss and, in turn, deteriorate one’s mood.
Contrary to popular belief, stress does not increase acid production in the stomach nor causes stomach ulcers. A bacterial infection actually causes the latter. When stressed, ulcers may be more bothersome.
Similar to how stress can cause aching, bloating, and nausea in the stomach, it can also have the same effects on the bowel. Thus this can have a detrimental effect on how quickly food moves through the body, causing either diarrhea or constipation. With stress impacting how quickly food is moved through the bowel, it, in turn, affects nutrient absorption. Certain nutrients require a longer period to have proper absorption. Lack of proper absorption has also been linked to increased gas production. Along with affecting the movement of food, it can induce muscle spasms in the bowel area, which can be extremely painful. Lastly, stress can make the intestinal barrier weaker and allow gut bacteria to enter the body. Although the intensities have a constricted barrier to protect from food-related bacteria, the constant short requirement for inflammatory action can lead to chronic mild symptoms.
As you can see, stress can have many detrimental effects on digestive health. Stress and digestive health are significant to people with chronic bowel disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome. This can be attributed to the gut nerves being more sensitive, the constant changes in gut microbiota, how quickly food moves through the gut, and/or changes in gut immune responses. In the next section, I will explain how stress affects individuals with digestive illnesses.
Stress and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
Inflammatory bowel disease includes diseases such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. The study’s conclusion found that chronic stress, depression, and unfavorable life events can increase the risk of relapse in patients. This study recognized various mechanisms by which stress affects both the systemic and gastrointestinal immune and inflammatory responses. The study noted therapeutic interventions focused n stress reduction remains a challenge. Current clinical trials monitoring the effects of stress reduction techniques on IBD have not shown promise (R).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, is a common condition that affects the digestive system. In a study looking at around 600 people with gastroenteritis, a condition in which a person experiences temporary inflammation of the stomach and/or intestines, researchers discovered that patient’s ability to handle stress is a crucial factor in whether they went on to develop IBS. Those with higher levels of stress, anxiety, and negative illness were at greater risk of developing IBS (R).
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Researchers found no increase in acid reflux when patients were under acute stress (R). Conversely, when patients were chronically anxious, they were more likely to notice worsening of their symptoms. In summary, their attitudes affected their perception of the symptom severity.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
Helicobacter pylori, H. pylori, is a type of bacteria that results in many ulcers found in humans. Although a popular belief is that eating spicy and having a stressful life can cause ulcers and impact our digestive health, that is not the case. H. pylori cause ulcers by weakening the protective mucous coating of the esophagus and stomach. This, in turn, causes acid to be able to get through the sensitive lining beneath. The combination of the acid and the bacteria irritate the lining, causing a sore or ulcer. Recently, some evidence suggests ongoing stress leads to mucosal lining inflammation, thus allowing gastric acid to irritate the sensitive stomach lining underneath (R).
All Digestive Conditions
Stress increases gut motility and fluid secretion. This is why you might get a bout of diarrhea or repeated urges to urinate during or following a stressful event. Stress can both delay emptying stomach contents and speed up material passage through the intestines. This combination of activity leads to abdominal pain and altered bowel habits. Additionally, acute psychological stress decreases a person’s pain threshold.
20 ways to Destress
With all the ways stress can impact your health and today’s fast-paced society has our lives in it’s crushing grasp, making stress is an unwanted by-product. Below are 20 easy ways to reduce stress and help your digestive health. After all, you deserve it.
- Get moving
- Drink tea
- Write in a journal
- Unplug from social media
- Meditate/ do yoga
- Take a walk
- Talk to yourself
- Listen to music
- Be with family
- Learn a new hobby
- Say no
- Treat yourself
- Forgive yourself
- Dance your stress away
- Remember you are human
How Can CareClinic Help With Stress and Digestion?
Stress, whether acute or chronic can have an immediate impact on our digestion. Whether it’s how hormones impact your body or how you eat when stressed, stress ultimately plays a role in our digestion. CareClinic is your solution to keep track of both your stress and digestion. You can use the app’s numerous features to track your daily activities and nutrition. You can then go back and see if there are any correlations between anything stressful you may have experienced and your digestion.
Along with tracking your daily life, CareClinic allows you to set up a Care Team, a team of people who care about you and your health and would like to help in your care. Your Care Team can be your physician, nurse, social worker or even family members. Along with setting up a Care Team, you can set up personalized Care Plans, which can all differ based on what you want to do and what you want to track. Below are some additional details on the features that CareClinic offers and how they can help you with your stress and digestion.
The diary entry feature allows you to make notes in the moment of what you are experiencing or how you are feeling. Feeling some indigestion after your big meal? Make a note of it in your diary on the CareClinic app and write down how you are feeling. This way, you can look back and your CareClinic reports and see exactly how you felt and what you were doing when that indigestion hit. n your daily life activities.
The symptom tracker function lets you add symptoms you are experiencing. You can make note of any symptoms you are experiencing and grade them on a scale. Experiencing some heartburn after a rough meeting at work? You can make a note of your heartburn and see later that it may have been caused by stress from your meeting.
CareClinic offers a nutrition tracker, which helps you maintain your diet log. With a specific diet to improve your food habit, you can follow your diet and reflect on helping you live a healthy life free of stress. You can keep track of everything you eat in all of your meals. Over time you will be able to see how stress may have impacted your meals. And additionally, you can see how your meals and that stress affect your digestion.
Use this feature to track any activities you may engage in to help relive your stress. Your activity tracker will help you see any correlations between the activities you do and your stress levels. This will help you get a better understanding of your stress and digestion.
Keep a record of any therapies you may be doing to help you with your stress and digestion. You may be seeing a therapist to help you manage your stress, you can keep track of your appointments and anything you may learn for your sessions. You can then see how the sessions are helping you manage your stress and digestion.
Reports are a great feature offered by CareClinic which provide you with an overall picture of your health. The reports feature provides you with insights and logs on your diary, nutrition, activities, symptoms and other entries. Most importantly, it will give you an idea of how everything works together to give you an impression of how stress and digestion impacts your lifestyle
How we react to stress can have lasting effects on our digestion and health. Learning to manage stress or removing ourselves from stressful situations can help us improve our lifestyle. Digestion plays a huge role on our health and making sure that we eat healthy can have a huge impact on our lives. Let CareClinic help you manage your stress and digestion and in turn your health!