The gut-brain connection is well-documented, and it's no secret that gut health can have a major impact on overall wellbeing. When the gut is out of balance, it can lead to a whole host of issues - from digestive problems to anxiety and depression.
A bidirectional relationship exists between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract - our thoughts and emotions impact the gut, and our gut bacteria affect the brain! This is called the gut-brain axis.
A review of studies published in the journal General Psychiatry found that people with anxiety might be helped by regulating the micro-organisms in their gut by taking probiotics or non-probiotics food and supplements.
Anxiety, like many emotions, can also have a negative impact on the gut. Most of us have experienced this; having a 'gut feeling', feeling something gut-wrenching, butterflies-in-the-stomach caused by nerves or having a stressful time that has us running to the loo more often.
When we suffer from anxiety, our nervous system is in fight or flight mode and produces more adrenaline and cortisol. Our body is preparing to run away or fight a perceived threat. But adrenaline and cortisol decrease blood flow to the stomach and intestines.
The NHS website states, 'In some people, stress slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation, while in others it speeds it up, causing diarrhoea and frequent trips to the loo.'
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America say that stress and anxiety also have 'a negative effect on your gut flora (micro-organisms that live in the digestive tract and aid digestion).'
Knowing that our emotions impact our gut health - here are 4 ways you can feel calmer today:
Create a calm environment when eating
The NHS recommends that we avoid eating when we're very stressed, anxious, or unhappy because our emotions can disturb our digestion. Try to create calm mealtimes if you can. Take some deep belly breaths before you begin eating, minimise distractions, close your laptop and sit at the table. Take your time to eat and chew your food slowly.
The Psychological Sigh
Try Stamford University's Dr Andrew Huberman’s 'physiological sigh' breathing method. It's a simple way to feel calmer quickly. Take a deep breath in through your nose, then take another smaller, quicker breath in through the nose before breathing out slowly through the mouth. Usually, one or two, possibly three, physiological sighs are enough to help you feel calmer.
Schedule in rest
There's evidence to suggest that people who take breaks from work are more productive than those that don't. Breaks help you to recover from stress more efficiently which will have a positive effect on your gut health. If you rush around and put a lot of pressure on yourself, it's important to remember that rest is productive. Take a look at your diary and schedule time out. Create white space in your calendar between meetings and schedule in relaxing activities like taking a bath or doing yoga. When it's scheduled into the diary, it's much more likely to happen.
Get better at saying no
Are you someone who says yes to things and then ends up regretting it later? Having difficulty saying no is common amongst those who feel stressed and anxious. Check-in with your body before you agree to do something and ask yourself, 'Is this a yes or a no for me?'. If you struggle to say no to someone's face, let them know you'll check your diary and come back to them. This will buy you time to formulate your no.
Learning to calm stress and anxiety can make a big difference to how your gut feels - so I hope you'll give these tips a try.