Stress & Digestion
Have you ever struggled with digestive issues like:
- excessive fullness
- acid reflux
- bloating / gas
Within a couple hours of eating a meal?
Digestion is a complex process, but stress can have a big impact on it! Luckily it’s one area that’s pretty easy to actively work on improving.
Digestion starts in the brain, triggering the digestive process to get started. We need to be in a relaxed mode in order to digest our food. So if you’re still in an energetic or stress mode this isn’t going to happen!
Our nervous system has two different states. The sympathetic state, commonly called “fight or flight” is our more energetic, active state. It’s when we’re reacting to things, being physically or mentally active, and also where our system is when we’re stressed.
The second state is the parasympathetic state, or the “rest and digest” mode. This is where our body rests, recovers, and most importantly (for this blog post!) digests our food. We need to be calm and relaxed in order to be in this state, so you can see how significant this system is on our digestion!
If we’re consuming food but are not in the parasympathetic state, our body will give priority to other tasks before tackling digestion.
Not only will stress cause our system to not be in the digestion state, but it can also decrease the level of acidity in our stomachs. Having a properly acidic stomach is incredibly important for effectively breaking down our food. This can lead to all of the digestive systems listed above. Plus it puts more burden on the rest of our digestive system to pick up the slack from the stomach.
So what can you do?
If you feel stressed or anxious before eating take a few minutes to do some deep breathing and relax your body. Even do a short mediation if you need it!
Don’t eat in front of a screen! Whether it’s the TV, your cell phone, or in front of your computer at work, these all trigger stress responses. Plus your brain won’t be fully registering that you’re eating and therefore not triggering your digestive system properly.
Stay away from stressful conversation at the table. Don’t “talk shop” with your colleagues over lunch or have hard conversations with your partner at dinner. Leave those topics for later!
Slooooow dooooown. Often we eat quickly when we’re stressed, and are therefore not chewing our food enough! Take a beat to count how many chews you do – I bet it’s less than 10! Try and aim for 20-30 chews per mouthful. It will feel tedious at first, but properly chewing our food is the first step of physical digestion and if you skip this part then the rest of your system has to pick up the slack.
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