Anxiety might make interacting with the world uncomfortable but its physical symptoms can make it unbearable. People who suffer from high stress and anxiety are at risk of developing gut-related issues that affect their quality of life. The simplicity of eating at a restaurant, sitting through a lengthy play, or carpooling with co-workers becomes complicated as the painful and discomforting gut problems can occur at any time.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Our brains are filled with many nerves. And so are our guts. Both the brain and the (gastrointestinal tracts) GI tract share many nerve connections, making anxiety and stress a straight ticket to digestive issues. The GI tract, also called the gut flora, consists of hollow organs (mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus) that make up the digestive system. The liver, pancreas, and gallbladder make up the rest of it. In order for our bodies to absorb nutrients for energy and cell repair, digestion needs to happen. The role of the GI tract is for its bacteria to break down what is consumed to be able to digest and take in the proper nourishment. To do so, it works with the nervous system and circulatory system (nerves, blood, hormones, and bacteria). When you are anxious, nervous, or stressed however, hormones and chemicals are released into the GI tract. This sort of disruption decreases antibody production and a chemical imbalance that can lead to various gastrointestinal issues.
Having gastrointestinal issues, on top of anxiety, can deeply affect your daily life. The brain may become preoccupied with worry about having a gut-related issue during work or at an event. Or simply at any given moment, thus induce an episode of worry and physical symptoms.
Symptoms of a GI-Anxiety Issue
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Stomach cramps
- Bloated abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Peptic ulcers
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
Fixing gut issues and anxiety will happen with patience and by being proactive in healing. Working with a medical professional and mental health professional is important but so is taking actionable steps on your own.
Do something healthy that promotes relaxation. That something may be practicing yoga, meditation, breathwork, knitting, hiking, playing an instrument, pottery, feeding birds–whichever activity brings the most calm. Regulating your nervous system, even if briefly, can encourage a sustainable relaxation and feeling of joy that can reduce anxiety.
Engage in daily physical activity such as running, swimming, pilates, and biking. Getting your blood pumping and body sweating will trigger a good feeling into your body as endorphins are released.
Implement a fairly strict regimen so that you guarantee eating clean healthy food. You can meal prep nutrient-dense foods to minimize the temptation to snack on sugary or salty snacks that can irritate the stomach and make you feel even worse.
Be okay with prioritizing your mental and physical health. If you find yourself worried about accepting an invite you want to decline, seeing someone that is toxic, being constantly available for work regardless of the hour, and any other stressor that can be avoided, you can honor yourself by not going through the unnecessary stress. Find a tactful way to establish a boundary with yourself and others so that you will not hurt yourself. It is okay to say “no” for your wellbeing.
To get help for anxiety in Los Angeles, call Trauma and Beyond Center ® at (818) 651-0725.