Have you ever had a ‘gut-wrenching’ experience, ‘butterflies in your tummy’, or found yourself saying ‘that makes me feel nauseas’ or ‘my tummy feels in knots’? You’re not alone!
Stress can literally manifest as that uneasy feeling in your stomach. Many people will experience this in situations that are challenging, for example a work presentation, public speaking, preparing for a flight, meeting a deadline, or generally in unpleasant situations.
Researchers have identified a powerful relationship between the brain and the gut, and how social and psychological stresses impact digestion.
The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive, and emotions like anxiety, grief, sadness and elation can quite literally be felt in the gut, wreaking havoc on general well-being.
When we become stressed the ‘flight or fight’ response is triggered, and this means that energy is taken away from digestion so that the body can divert energy to the perceived threat. This slowing down of digestion is just one of causes of that uneasy feeling in our tummy. More often than not, we may find ourselves placing our palms over our abdominal region in an attempt to calm it down.
Reducing stress and anxiety can be achieved with a few simple yet effective strategies.
Breathe – Instead of short shallow breaths from the chest, practice diaphragmatic breathing, making sure your tummy moves rhythmically in and out, expanding on the inhale and shrinking back on the exhale. Build the habit a few times into your day, when waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting in the car at traffic lights, or in the shower. This type of breathing brings calmness and communicates to your body that ‘all is well and safe’. It is the source of sustained energy and allows the use of body fat as fuel, rather than glucose.
Exercise – Make a conscious effort to move your body daily. This can include a gym workouts, team sports, cycling, swimming, walking, stretching or practicing yoga. Exercise releases endorphins that trigger positive feelings. Get moving and reap the mood boosting effects of exercise.
Meditate – Meditation is believed to reduce cortisol levels, lower the heart rate, improve feelings of well being, and reduce anxiety. Begin with a few minutes a day. Simply, sit or lie down with your eyes closed. Allow your breathe to be natural. Bring your awareness to your breathe and notice how your body feels. Still the mind if it wanders, and return to focusing on your breathe. Gradually increase the length of your meditations.
Sunlight – Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin. Without enough exposure to sunlight, serotonin levels can dip. These lower levels are linked to depression and seasonal affective disorder. Try to include safe ways of getting some sunlight in your day, by taking a walk or finding a sunny spot to enjoy your lunch.