Stress, IBS, and 3 things you can do to help
Stress can set off a whole range of digestive issues – bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain. If you’re an IBS sufferer you probably find stress can bring on all of these symptoms and more. Anyone with IBS will know stress can unfortunately be a major trigger. But why is this and what can you do to remedy the situation?
Why is stress a trigger?
When we’re stressed – we’re tense, and tensing up means tense muscles. Your digestive system uses the movement of your abdominal muscles to help the digestive process along. When stressed and tense the movement of the muscles can be severely reduced, which makes digestion sluggish and can even cause constipation or force things through faster causing diarrhoea. Both normally accompanied by pain and discomfort. This is a nightmare for IBS sufferers, inflaming the bowel and causing its related symptoms to appear or get worse.
The Stress and IBS link
Serotonin – the happiness hormone is mostly made in the gut. As digestion gets poorer the production and circulation of serotonin is badly affected. This makes it harder to be happy and more likely you’ll be stressed, meaning stress and IBS are closely linked. It’s almost impossible not to be stressed when your IBS is flaring up. Pain and discomfort are both very stressful and when this reduces serotonin you feel even worse. It’s all too easy for it to become a viscous cycle where the stress and the symptoms become worse and worse.
So what can you do to help?
The best thing to do if you’re in this situation is use some techniques that relieve both the IBS symptoms AND stress. This helps break that downward spiral where the stress and symptoms continually worsen and instead leaves you feeling better. Try these 3…
- Deep Breathing
- Abdominal Massage
- Diet Improvements
Deep breathing is a great and easy way to improve symptoms and stress levels. Deep, belly breathing massages the tense muscles in the upper abdomen, which are the ones most affected by stress. It also massages the section of your bowel that’s in this area. This helps release tension around the digestive system, soothes it, encourages movement and helps it to work better. Deep breathing is also a great natural soother of the nervous system. Particularly when counting – breathe in for 4, breathe out for 8 for example. Counting helps engage the more logical, conscious part of the brain (the side that says everything will be fine) over the more emotional, panicky subconscious. Breathing out for longer than you breathe in has a gravitational and soothing effect on the body. Doing these very deep breaths throughout the day lessens stress and eases symptoms.
This is a fantastic technique for helping IBS symptoms as well as stress. Massage helps muscles and the mind relax and be tension free. It improves the circulation of hormones lifting your mood.
Abdominal massage works on the whole digestive system, relieving pressure whilst physically encouraging and creating movement that stress and tension have hindered. This really helps the body and mind to relax and let go.
It basically helps your digestive system reboot whilst reducing stress as well. A great technique for helping your body heal from a stress related flare up.
In an abdominal sacral massage session you are also taught self help massage techniques so you can use them at home whenever you have flare ups.
Regularly massaging the abdomen can not only improve a flare up but also help to reduce their occurrence. Would you like to try one? Get in touch with me today to book an appointment with me!
Healthier eating can help both stress and symptoms improve. Stimulants such as coffee and sugar can increase stress levels. Both of these also have an inflammatory affect on the gut which can make IBS symptoms worse, so cutting down on these can really help.
Not enough water is also a very common problem with digestive issues and every system in the body requires plenty of water to function effectively. This means your body feels under stress if you don’t have enough water.
1.5L of fluid for women and 2L for men daily is recommended as we get roughly 0.5L from food.
You can’t include caffeine or alcohol in your daily intake as they are diuretics. It’s also best to avoid sugary drinks as mentioned above so having more herbal tea or water is the best bet.
An increase in water can make a real difference to symptoms and stress levels. A well balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg will make a big difference to digestion and mood too.
For many vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, zinc, copper and magnesium (and there are more), an early sign of deficiency is stress, irritation, and mood swings. This is often caused by a lack of fruit and vegetables.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are also the best source of fibre and a good source of water both of which are essential for healthy digestion so a boost in fruit and veg will often help mood and poor digestion.