How Stress Affects Your Gut (And What To Do About It)

How Stress Affects Your Gut (And What To Do About It)

It seems that stress is the norm these days, especially when it comes to work, career and family life.

When stress functions as nature intended, which is for brief periods, it doesn’t harm your health. But when there’s no clear end to that anxious feeling (the never ending to-do list or recent breakup), this hormonal response may become chronic, leaving stress hormones in the blood with nowhere to go. And when you’ve got high levels of stress hormones calling the shots for extended periods, that's where the trouble begins.

The Stress-Gut Connection

Have you ever felt sick with stress or nauseated before public speaking? That’s because of a system called the gut-brain axe - your brain and gut are connected!

One of the major areas where blood flow becomes restricted during times of stress is the digestive system. That’s why feeling stressed out can quickly unsettle your stomach.

Ongoing restriction of digestive blood flow brought on by long-term stress takes its toll on the gut in more significant ways than just butterflies though, by reducing microbial diversity and lowering numbers of friendly flora, thereby creating conditions that encourage undesirable strains to thrive. Additionally, the immune system (most of which resides in the gut) doesn’t receive the influx of fresh blood it needs to function optimally. Chronic stress also makes the digestive tract more permeable, as well as alters some of its basic functions. When the gut is compromised in this way, the body becomes more vulnerable to a wide range of unpleasant health challenges including:

  • Ongoing tummy troubles
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Unpleasant mood
  • Poor complexion
  • Low energy

Interestingly, not only does stress affect the gut—the composition of the gut microbiome also has a strong connection to our ability to handle life’s stressors. That’s because the brain and gut communicate constantly through the “gut-brain axis,” a complex bidirectional system of neural connections involving the central (brain) nervous system and the enteric (digestive) nervous system.

Learning to reduce your stress levels can have a dramatic and positive impact on your gut microbiome (the symbiotic balance of bacteria, yeast and pathogenic microorganisms). 

Simple Tips for Stress Management 

Mindfulness

Meditation, specifically the visualization technique. By visualizing during your meditation it engages and occupies the mind, and — at the same time — sets up a framework for the mind to unwind and move toward a place of calm.

Not into the whole meditation thing? Just do the breathing part. Taking a few deep breaths from the diaphragm has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Tune out

A flip through the old music library is one easy way to reduce stress. Music has the ability to dampen levels of the hormone, cortisol, and ease stress in the process. Which tunes work best? Something calming our Relax playlist on Spotify. But really, whatever you find relaxing is good musical medicine.

Supplement Support

Super Zen™ contains four adaptogens. Adaptogens work like a thermostat. They read when your adrenal response is too high or too low, and work with your body to help balance cortisol levels (stress hormones).

When faced with stress, be it physical, mental or emotional, our bodies go through a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer by stimulating the effect that holds off fatigue, allowing us to attain equilibrium.

Get stretching

The combination of deep breathing techniques and poses makes yoga a potent stress relief tool. Yoga comes in different styles, from slow-paced to hardcore. Hatha yoga, with its gentle movements, may be especially good for inducing a state of calm.

Stress is unavoidable these days, but it’s not insurmountable. Keep these stress relief tips on hand to pull out when you feel really overwhelmed. Or, better yet, make some of these a daily practice.

Something as simple as breathing deeply or tuning out could help you keep your cool in the most turbulent situations.