Three Ways to Lower Stress and Improve Gut Health
Last updated: February 2022
I really recommend you read my previous article but as a basic recap, the stress response is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system (a.k.a the flight or fight response) whereas digestion is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system (a.k.a the rest and digest response).
Stress response in the gut
As long as you are stressed, the rest and digestive system is switched off because essentially, the stress response is going to keep us alive in times of threat and so that takes precedence.
Unfortunately, the brain is not great at distinguishing between a genuine threat and just a stressful scenario. So either way, the response will be the same: blood is directed away from digestion and directed to your heart, lungs, and muscles.
While this may be great when we’re in an actual emergency, constant stimulation of our stress response can significantly affect our gut health.
I want to share three ways to turn on the rest and digest system, turn off the stress response, and improve the gut-brain connection.
Mindful eating and stress
Pausing before you eat a meal and taking a few slow breaths will interrupt the stress response and help you to move into rest and digest. This is best achieved by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth, with the exhale being longer than the inhale.
Try this just three times before a meal and it will go a long way in supporting you to better absorb your nutrients and digest your food.
If you can, eat in a calm environment, where you can focus on your food, which will stimulate digestion, rather than on your to-do list. Try not to rush your meals or eat on the go, as rushing kicks start the stress response.
Now, of course, this isn’t always possible so if you have to eat while dashing to a meeting, just remember to take those breaths – even if all you can fit in is one.
Tapping when feeling anxious
The stress response is a physiological reaction that doesn’t always respond to logic or reason. Ever feel anxious but can’t talk yourself out of it?
The brain doesn’t really care about logic, it cares about the biological instinct to survive and so it will override our reasoning if it thinks we’re in danger.
So, one of the ways we can help ourselves to calm down is by actually interacting with the stress response on a physical level. Tapping is an exercise where we tap on specific points on the body whilst repeating certain phrases, and the act of this can have a significant effect on the stress response.
Research has shown that tapping can reduce cortisol, the stress hormone, levels by up to 43%1 and can also significantly reduce common stressors like depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress.2
Hypnotherapy for gastro help
Hypnotherapy is proving to be an effective tool in calming down gastrointestinal distress, especially when caused by stress or anxiety.
One of the ways in which it does is this is by repeatedly activating the rest and digest response and switching off the stress response. Over time, as your gut reactions calm, this, in turn, has a positive effect on your stress levels and further improves gut health and the gut-brain connection.3
Other ways to improve your gut health with stress include vagus nerve support, yoga, breathing, exercise, and meditation.4
Which symptoms are you experiencing the most this week? (Check all that apply):