How can stress affect your gut?

How can stress affect your gut?

Which comes first – stress or IBS? They can actually both be the trigger and cause of one another. With the current uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, on top of all the usual health, work, study, or relationship stressors, your IBS may be becoming a more daily occurrence.

How can IBS increase our stress levels?

I’m sure those of you familiar with IBS are aware of this one, purely just because you’re often waiting for a flare-up. Social situations and even simple tasks like grocery shopping or dropping the kids off to school can cause distress.

How can stress affect our gut?

More and more research is coming out that shows that IBS is actually a combination of irritable bowel and irritable brain. When we are stressed, your body's' “fight or flight” response is activated, which increases your stress hormones and causes your heart to beat faster. This slows and can even stop your digestive processes. This is because our body is focusing on “fighting” the threat at hand rather than taking the time to “rest and digest”.

You can imagine this is an important survival mechanism if you are running from a wild animal however not so much when you’re stressed because you can’t meet a deadline in time. Unfortunately, your body can’t differentiate between various types of stressors and therefore responds the same way. This often results in altered gut function, essentially worsening those IBS symptoms.

As you can see, it’s quite a vicious cycle. Stress can trigger those nasty IBS symptoms, and having IBS can increase our stress levels. See below for our top tips on how to manage them both!

How to manage stress and IBS:

  1. Keep a Food and Symptom Diary

This will be great to monitor any patterns and ultimately identify any food or stress triggers. Once you’ve identified these, you can take the necessary steps to reduce or remove them from your routine.

  1. Stay Active

Incorporating yoga, meditation, or any form of exercise into your daily practice is great for both stress and gut health. Physical activity increases our endorphins aka our happy hormones and decreases our stress hormones – what a win!

  1. Reach out to an IBS Support Group

Social support is essential when managing stress and therefore controlling those symptoms. 

  1. Seek Professional Help

While it may be difficult to discuss your stressors or IBS with family and friends, health professionals (dietitians and/or psychologists) are there to help you manage.

  1. Focus on Healthy Eating

Try to eat regularly at the same time each day, chew your food well, and be mindful during the meal. Avoid the high FODMAP foods that trigger your symptoms and eat from all five food groups as per the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

  1. Look after yourself – you got this!

Last but not least, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and drinking plenty of water.

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