Stress and anxiety can have a major impact on your digestive system.
When my clients are experiencing digestive challenges, like stomachaches, cramping, gas, bloating, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, they naturally think they might have a food intolerance (e.g., lactose, gluten, etc.).
However, before we experiment with dietary changes, we explore their relationship with stress and anxiety.
Your body can’t tell the difference between different types of stress. It perceives all stressors as a hungry saber-tooth tiger and immediately responds by going into fight-or-flight mode.
When your body switches to fight-or-flight mode, your digestive system shuts down. Basically, the part of your brain that turns on stress simultaneously turns off digestion.
Stress On = Digestion Off
It makes sense when you think about it. If you encounter a “tiger,” your body isn’t going to waste its precious energy digesting lunch. All of its resources will go to your limbs so you can fight or flee.
One of the “homework assignments” I give my clients is to make a list of everything in their life that causes them stress and anxiety. We then explore how they can change their relationship with these things, especially the stressors that are self-chosen.
Self-chosen stressors are thoughts, beliefs, behaviors or ways of being with yourself that generate stress. Here are some examples:
- negative self-talk (e.g., I shouldn’t have eaten that; I’m too heavy; I’m not pretty enough; I’m not smart enough, I’m not doing enough, etc.)
- rigid diet and exercise rules
- comparing self to others
- suppressing emotions
- conditional happiness (e.g., I will be happy when…I lose 10 pounds, find the perfect mate, get a different job, etc.)
Self-chosen stressors put your body in a chronic low-level state of stress physiology (a.k.a. the “stress response”). This can lead to numerous health challenges including digestive issues.