Have you ever felt 'sick to your stomach' with worry or anxiety? Maybe around an exam, money worries, important meetings or a marathon?
Stress has a huge impact on our ability to digest food, and can even trigger IBS flare-ups in some people. Symptoms may include:
When stressed, the body switches off unnecessary functions (like digesting lunch) in order to power the legs and major muscle groups with oxygenated blood because it’s tricked into thinking we are in fight or flight mode. There is no 'room' for digestion when we are about to be attacked by a sabre-tooth tiger.
When we are sitting at our desk feeling tense and anxious because we have a demanding schedule with impossible deadlines or an overbearing boss, our body is in fight-or-flight mode.
Sub-consciously, we're now busy producing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, not digestive juices. The gut is literally 'starved' of oxygenated blood when we are sitting tensely for long periods of time, our blood pressure increases, and our breathing naturally becomes shallower.
So what can we do??
Rest and Digest
Next time you are about to eat, ensure you are in 'rest and digest' mode: switch off email, put the phone down, don’t multi task and eat mindfully (see below).
Before eating, take three deep belly breaths. See if you can prolong the out breath. For example, breath in for a count of three and out for a count of six. This slows the heart rate and helps switch off the stress response. Then check-in with how you are feeling.
Take a short walk before lunch if you need to clear the head, relax and unwind. And after lunch, take a short walk outside to help your digestion, when you can.
Mindfulness is the buzzword of the moment and it's so important in so many ways. Mindful eating means being present as you eat.
Really notice the smell, taste and texture of your food. We are all guilty of literally 'inhaling' our food from time to time. Take a moment to truly focus on chewing and enjoying the sensation, texture, and flavour of your food. It's way more enjoyable and chances are you'll suffer much less unwanted bloating and uncomfortable wind.
Saliva is Essential
Gulping down big gasps of air with every bite because you're in a hurry will inevitably create gas, cramping and bloating. Savour each mouthful and chew for longer because this mixes more saliva with the food you are eating.
Saliva is essential for good digestion as it starts the enzymatic breakdown of your food. Without it you will be more prone to stomach cramps, bloating and gas.
Taking your time and chewing food properly also helps signal your brain that you are full and that it is time to stop eating. So if your discomfort is linked to overeating, this should really start to make a difference.
Still having stomach problems?
If you feel you are already following these steps and still have issues, despite getting the all clear from your GP then there could be an underlying gut problem.
Common issues that aren't picked-up in a routine GP or GI Consultant appointment include: digestive enzyme deficiency, bile insufficiency, a parasite or bacterial imbalance in the gut, and/or food intolerance. These are all possible underlying factors and comprehensive stool analysis and other tests can be helpful.
If you suspect food intolerances, these can be identified through elimination diets under strict management and through testing. This is a measured, managed, personalised health plan and requires guidance and regular support. Check out the various packages here.
You may also enjoy reading:
Tune up your digestion in five simple steps
My top 5 tips to prevent bloating
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