Have you ever thought about the etymology of the phrase ‘butterflies in the stomach’? If you dig a little, you will find out the explanation. Stress or excitement lead to reduced blood flow through the gut, and that produces this feeling! Similarly, if you feel bloated or gassy, and have been running to the bathroom more than usual, of course it’s time to check your gut health, but also your stress levels!
Stress can affect every part of your digestive system and can cause a range of digestive problems that include indigestion, nausea, heartburn, and irritable bowel syndrome.
To learn more about it, HealthShots got in touch with Dr Roy Patankar, Director and Gastroenterologist, Zen Multispeciality Hospital.
Are you aware that the communication system between your gut and brain is known as the gut-brain axis? Dr Patankar says, “The gut tends to have neurons that are connected to the brain via nerves in the nervous system. Your gut and brain are also linked via chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters produced in the brain are responsible for controlling feelings and emotions.”
“The gut microbes tend to produce a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which controls feelings of fear and anxiety. Thus, one’s gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, sadness, elation.”
One will feel nauseated before an important meeting or while giving a presentation. So, there is an intimate connection between gut and brain. You will feel like eating more during a stressful situation and then it can lead to acidity.
Physical reactions to many mental health issues are natural. Your body is designed to react in that way. Here are some emotions which hamper your stomach health, according to Dr Patankar:
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The feeling of anxiety is one of the most common emotions that can cause stomach issues. If you are anxious due to a certain situation, like a failed presentation or workplace stress, it can upset the delicate balance of digestion. One can feel nauseated too.
Are you stressed due to a financial crisis or a broken relationship? Have you ever had to make a gut-wrenching decision under pressure? Stress takes a toll on every part of digestion. Dr Patankar says, “Stress causes the esophagus to go into spasms. It also increases the acid in your stomach, which results in indigestion. There can be diarrhoea and constipation, bloating, frequent trips to the loo, and poor appetite. Stress tends to aggravate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”
Some short and long-term health problems like headache, insomnia, abdominal pain, and digestion problems, have been linked to anger which includes. People have different physical responses to anger. However, most people with anger management issues often suffer from stomach ailments.
“Extreme anger will not aid in releasing chemicals that are required for healthy digestion. Intense anger also releases stomach acids that can irritate the ulcers and cause diarrhoea, constipation, and abdominal pain,” says Dr Patankar.
Abdominal pain that worsens, especially when stress arises, may be a sign of depression. In fact, Harvard Medical School researchers suggest that stomach discomfort like cramps, bloating and nausea may be a sign of poor mental health.
“Depression can definitely disrupt gut health and can lead to diarrhoea, constipation, overeating, or poor appetite,” says Dr Patankar.