As with so many things in life, we are often left wondering what came first, the chicken or the egg? In the case of IBS and stress, did the IBS trigger the stress or did stress trigger the IBS?!
Round and round we go without getting any closer to answers or relief because we have no idea which one to work on first or how to approach all of it! Sound familiar?
I’m here to shed some light on this topic, as it’s a deeply personal one to me, having lived it for the greater part of the last eight years.
It’s essential in the gut healing journey to understand the connection between IBS, stress and anxiety. They are undeniably linked and I’m going to show you why and how it’s important to get to the root of your symptoms so you can truly thrive.
Let me ask you this: did your anxiety come about around the time your gut health issues started? I know mine did, but at the time, I had NO IDEA they were related. Back then, I was in the mindset of “well, when it rains it pours, so now I have TWO health issues to deal with!” This was me in my victim mindset, rather than a mindset of empowerment. I thought “well it’s just my luck” and I’ll have to toughen up and deal with it.
Have you ever caught yourself thinking this?
I finally realized that this thinking wasn’t serving me any longer. And dealing with these health issues SEPARATELY was that the wrong way to do it. Our body is one complex system, so when one part is “off”, all others are “off”, but subsequently, when you improve one area, the others improve, too. Problem was, at the time, I was only addressing my physical health, leaving stress to fester and prolong my IBS.
When it comes to my clients, just about EVERY one of them has some form of anxiety or susceptibility to high stress. It’s also important to note that 90% of my clients are women, and today, women are facing more stress and pressure than ever before. While we do have more exciting opportunities, we don’t have coping mechanisms for the stress that comes along with busy schedules, increased responsibility, money management, and so on.
I also notice overtime how, when working on balancing their digestion, their anxiety lessens and they feel more at ease. Coincidence? My experience, as well as research, says no.
A study done in 2017 found that depression and anxiety levels ARE in fact higher in IBS patients than in healthy individuals, regardless of what kind of IBS. Studies in animals also show that stress can actually change the composition of the microbiome, including more inflammation and increased vulnerability to infection.
Harvard Health further reports that, “The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.”
The mind-gut connection, as ancient Greek physician Hippocrates always said, is real. That’s why it can be truly difficult to address gut issues without considering the role of stress and emotion.
And it’s why I LOVE being a functional nutrition practitioner – because I address the WHOLE BODY the whole time, looking at things like digestion and anxiety at the SAME TIME, not separately. Strategic changes can be implemented that address both gut health issues AND anxiety issues at once, alleviating both faster and naturally.
My anxiety is 1000% less than it used to be when my ulcerative colitis was flaring up and I was eating the wrong foods, and I’m so so grateful I’ve found my own path to relieve both the physical and mental stress of it all. There’s, of course, still work to be done, but I saw an incredible difference in my mental health when I addressed it alongside my gut health, not treating them as two separate issues.
As more research has found, “some people with functional GI disorders perceive pain more acutely than other people do because their brains are more responsive to pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.” This shows how much this really matters!
All of this is possible to address, we just need the right tools, and that’s where I come in. This is my specialty and I love seeing how quickly clients progress when they’re committed to releasing their stress alongside working on their gut health.
I truly believe you can live life with far less stress, and that you’ll experience much better digestion because of it. Here are a few tips you can implement right away to see just how powerful this really is:
How to Relieve Stress AND Boost Digestion at Once
- Breathe, then eat. Take a few deep breaths before a meal – this switches the body from fight and flight from the day to rest and digest, helping your body focus its energy internally.
- Chew slower. This can bring you closer to your food, aid with digestion by breaking the food down more and soaking it with more enzymes from your saliva.
- Make meal prep relaxing. Diffuse lavender essential oil in the kitchen. Lavender is incredibly relaxing to the nervous system, so if you need to de-stress while cooking and eating, this can be a great way to do so.
- Meditate before dinner. Even just 2-5 minutes of meditation can be very powerful. Consider getting an affirmations card deck (these are the ones I use) and pull one each night at random to meditate on. Take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, a technique known to promote relaxation and release of tension and negative thoughts.
There any more tips for addressing both digestive concerns and stress regulation, which can be more or less effective depending on exactly what you’re going through.
These are the kinds of strategies my clients and I develop as a team when we work together 1:1 or in both of my group programs.
To learn more about each, scope out my One-on-One Coaching Program, my Love Your Gut Group Program, and my *brand new* Rise to Thrive mind-body program. There are many options to work together, and if you’d like to discuss with me which one is best for you, you can schedule a free introductory call.
I truly commend your dedication to your health. Simply because you are reading this post means you’re on the right path and that much closer to the answer.
Let me know in the comments below if you’ve had any experience with your digestive symptoms as it relates to your stress or vice versa, I’d love to hear!