The blues are in the air. And it’s not just the Baton Rouge Blues Festival kicking off this week. With tax season, school wrapping up, and the impending swimsuit season—everyone’s singing the blues. But how is your body handling this stressful month?
Stress triggers the “fight or flight” response in our body—causing your heart to beat faster and pumping the adrenaline and cortisol levels. In life-threatening situations (acute events), this response allows your mind and body to deal with the situation at hand.
But in situations of chronic stress, when the response is triggered repeatedly or for a prolonged amount of time, the high levels of adrenaline and cortisol can wreak havoc on your mind and body—especially your digestive system.
When your stress response kicks into gear, it automatically affects other systems—especially the enteric nervous system, which controls digestion. A stressed enteric nervous system can result in increased heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and even stomach acid. When stomach acid increases and the esophagus begins to spasm (another stress response), you may experience indigestion and nausea.
You may also experience diarrhea or constipation. And although recent studies have shown that ulcers are not actually caused by stress, but rather a strain of bacteria known as helicobacter pylori, chronic and acute stress can exacerbate preexisting conditions.
It’s tax/finals/swimsuit season! You cry. The stress is unavoidable, right? Well, maybe so. But here are a few ways to manage your stress so those things weighing on your mind don’t throw your body off-balance too.
Relaxation Therapy: Physical activity has been known to release endorphins, relieve tension, and improve your mood. If you’re suffering from stress-related digestive issues, consider light physical activity that focuses on mindfulness, such as yoga, deep stretching, or meditation. Relaxation therapy has been shown to provide IBS-sufferers with relief from pain, bloating, and diarrhea. Consider looking into the Relaxation Response, a meditative technique developed by Harvard Medical School researcher, Dr. Herbert Benson.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: With a trained professional, this form of goal-oriented, cooperative therapy teaches you to confront your stressors—and how they can result in the proliferation of negative, distorted thoughts—and replace them with positive, attainable thoughts and goals.
Mind Your Plate: With the external stresses you’re facing, it can be easy to let your nutrition get away from you. Fast food and vending machines are extremely convenient when your mind and time are already occupied, but let’s face it—the digestive issues they can cause are far more time-consuming. Consider batch-cooking. A few hours on the weekend can provide you with a week of freezer- and microwave-friendly meals that will you feeling full and energized.
Consult Your Physician: Mindful eating, physical activity, and relaxation can help reduce the symptoms and triggers of stress-induced digestive problems, but find the time to consult with your gastroenterologist to make sure you’re not dealing with symptoms of a more serious gastrointestinal or digestion issue. Talk to a doctor today and get on the pathway to digestive health.