Has the thought of giving a presentation made you feel nauseated or have you rushing to the bathroom? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach before a date? There is a correlation between your gastrointestinal system and your emotions. Emotions such as anxiety, sadness or anger can trigger symptoms that are felt in the gut. Stress and emotions are an important consideration in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no obvious physical cause.
Communication between the brain and the digestive tract occurs via the brain-gut axis and is responsible for the regulation and digestion of food. The digestive tract and the brain communicate and share similar nerve endings and neurotransmitters. When looking to explain digestive concerns, yes, it is essential to look at dietary habits and food sensitivities. And it is recommended that we reduce sugar and processed foods, eat more fermented foods and to keep active. But given the intimate relationship of the gut and the brain, we must also examine how our thoughts and emotions affect our digestive system.
We are constantly processing and responding to our surroundings. Every moment, our brain is assessing our environment for safety. If it determines that there is danger physically, mentally or emotionally a stress response is initiated to prepare you to run away from, or to face an, impending threat. When the brain senses “danger” – whether it be a lion chasing you, an angry boss or being stuck in traffic – the fight-or-flight response gets activated. The stress response initiates an increase in adrenaline, blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar and muscle tension to provide the body with a surge of oxygen and energy to take action. Other non-essential systems including digestion, immunity, and reproduction are less important for survival and become less active.
Ideally, when the “danger” is no longer present, your body should no longer be in a state of defense (fight-or-flight) and hormone levels should return to normal. However, recurring distressing emotions or thoughts can prolong the stress response. Stress hormones are released constantly and over a longer period of time, increasing blood pressure and blood sugar and impacting immunity and digestion. When you are stressed, digestion can literally shut down. This can lead to constipation which interferes with digestion and detoxification. Stress can also have the opposite effect, causing food to move too quickly through your system, not leaving enough time for the nutrients to be absorbed, which leads to loose stools. Because of your brain’s connection to the stomach and the stomach’s involvement in digestion, stress can irritate the digestive system.
The emotions that people feel in their “stomach” (butterflies, gut-wrench, knots) are all different ways of experiencing the same emotion, stress. If you experience gastrointestinal upset and have not identified a cause or trigger, consider what’s going on emotionally. Bringing awareness to the physical distress that certain thoughts or emotions elicit can be eye-opening. Simply acknowledging that your brain and body are reacting to a stress that is no longer present can initiate the first step to creating a change. Taking a slow deep breath can provide reassurance that there is not any immediate danger to prepare for. When the fight-or-flight system is calmed, the body is able to access the relax-and-digest system. At BodyMind Wellness Studio, Network Spinal Analysis addresses the nervous system to allow the body to better communicate with the brain.
“Often, physical symptoms and imbalances are a manifestation of deeper issues. True healing needs to take place both physically and emotionally.” (Dr. Julie Doobay)
Copyright 2019 Dr. Julie Doobay