You’re Dealing With Regular Stomach Cramping
If you know you have high-functioning anxiety, and have also been dealing with stomach cramps of the non-period variety, your anxiety might be the culprit.
“Your stomach is literally under stress when youâre suffering from anxiety, causing it to contract, which leads to stomach cramps,” Backe says. “Out of the blue stomach cramps, specifically during times of heightened anxiety, might be a sign that you need to take a break from whatever is stressing you out.” If you notice the cramping happening in a period of prolonged or heightened stress, then the chances of your cramping being due to anxiety are especially high.
The Fight Or Flight Response
Cortisol is a crucial hormone produced in the adrenal glands. It helps control blood sugar and metabolism, among other things.
Along with other hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol is part of your bodys fight or flight response.
When faced with a crisis, this stress response slows unnecessary body functions so you can focus. Once the threat passes, everything goes back to normal.
Thats a good thing.
However, prolonged stress can keep stress hormones levels elevated, along with your blood pressure and blood sugars, and thats not good.
How Do You Relieve Bloating From Stress
While it may not be possible or easy to do, ideally, we want to address the stress that is contributing to the bloating. This may be the root cause for many.
However, as mentioned above, following periods of stress we can enter a vicious cycle. Here the imbalance in the gut microbiome makes us more sensitive to stress and then the additional perception of stress can then further disrupt the gut.
In these cases, it can be most helpful to address the imbalance in the gut and the perception or exposure to stress at the same time.
There are several tools and approaches to use to help rebalance this.
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Can Stress Cause Other Gastrointestinal Problems
Bloating rarely comes in isolation and can often be attributed to imbalances in the microflora, which can be caused or worsened by daily life stress. During prolonged periods of stress gut microbiome diversity is impacted.
Gut microbiome diversity is a key indicator over the health of the microbiome. Once diversity of key bacteria is lost then the function of the entire ecosystem is impacted.
This may then lead to:
- Increased risk of digestive issues such as IBS
- Increased risk of inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohns and Ulcerative Colitis
- Disruption of the gut-brain axis and the stress response. For example, increasing how sensitive we are to stress.
- Increased risk of metabolic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity
Managing The Symptoms Of Stress
Theres no easy way to prevent stress from causing problems in your stomach and gut. One option is to avoid eating when youre feeling particularly stressed within a short period e.g. before an exam or speaking in public.
However, avoiding food isnt a good long-term solution. If youre regularly experiencing stress and this seems to be causing frequent digestive problems, its a good idea to talk to a doctor.
Your GP should be able to offer you some stress-busting techniques, and may be able to refer you for counselling or therapy. Treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy can be good for breaking anxious thought patterns and recognising stress triggers.
Additionally, your GP will be able to assess your symptoms and work out if your digestive problems might be caused by something else.
Symptoms like stomach pains, changes to your bowel movements , indigestion, and heartburn should be checked by a GP if they havent improved within a couple of weeks. You should also go to the doctor if you experience any bleeding from the bottom, difficulty swallowing, or unexpected weight loss.
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Stomach Pain And Long
Because of the extra acid in your stomach and the changes to the way your body processes nutrients, the stomach pain from anxiety can be a problem if left untreated. Ulcers are just one example. Some people experience heartburn from anxiety, and others eat less often, giving their body fewer nutrients.
The stomach pain from anxiety and stress is rarely dangerous, but it is still important to treat it, because the effects on your long-term health when it is left untreated may be harder to manage.
When Should You See A Doctor For Gastrointestinal Problems
Mild or occasional digestive problems due to stress are common. However, this doesnt mean that you should dismiss these symptoms.
Tell your doctor about symptoms such as nausea, stomachache, cramps, or diarrhea. The more your doctor knows about your health, the better the quality of care you receive.
These symptoms could indicate a manageable digestive problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome. The American College of Gastroenterology states that 10 to 15 percent of U.S. adults have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome however, only five to seven percent of adults have been diagnosed with IBS.
Talk to your doctor if you experience stress-related digestive problems. Your primary care physician may refer you to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist.
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What To Do When You Have Stomach Problems From Anxiety
While the best way for you to stop your stomach problems is to cure your anxiety, there are some strategies that you can try to implement that may reduce some of the symptoms. These include:
- Breathing Exercises There are relaxation exercises that focus on the idea of breathing more efficiently. When your stomach problems are caused by hyperventilation or air swallowing, slow and controlled breathing can be not only calming but also reduce the likelihood of further air swallowing symptoms.
- Healthier Diet Even though anxiety is going to create some stomach problems no matter what you eat, the reality is that foods that are hard to digest are always going to put some strain and stress on your stomach. When combined with anxiety, they’ll be more likely to get much worse. Healthier eating can be a much more effective way to ensure that you aren’t suffering from as many stomach problems.
- Exercise Exercise can temporarily create more stomach problems because exercise increases stomach acid. But eventually, exercise should help you control your anxiety better, and possibly improve your hormonal balance. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, providing far more benefits than simply muscle mass and a healthy heart.
Gut Reactions To Stress
The reason that you can experience diarrhea when you are stressed is directly related to your body’s programmed stress response, what is commonly referred to as our “fight-or-flight” reaction.
The fight-or-flight reaction did a great job in helping humans to survive as a species, particularly back when they were often faced with things like hungry lions. But this same reaction has become more troublesome in light of the challenges you are faced with, and the fast pace of, modern life.
When you come across something that you perceive as threatening, your body reacts with a variety of physical changes. Heart rate and respiration increase, your muscles tense up, blood is directed toward your extremities, and most relevant to the current discussion, your colon contractions speed up. In some cases, this increase in colon activity can result in the symptom of diarrhea.
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Your Upset Stomach May Be Cause By Stress
An upset stomach is one of the most common symptoms of stress and anxiety. This can come from a single stressful moment like public speaking or a bad breakup or chronic worry over time from work or a global pandemic.
If your stomach hurts without any obvious cause, such as food illness, its possible that feelings of stress or anxiety could be the trigger. In addition to stomachaches, stress can also cause other digestive problems:
While these symptoms may stem from stress or anxiety, they can also become a source of stress. For example, someone who experiences diarrhea or urgency with bowel movements may fear having an accident in public this can prevent them from leaving their home or limit the places they go.
Should I See A Doctor If I Get Stomach Pains When I Am Stressed
You should be seeing your primary care physician at least once a year, and you should tell them if you often have stomach pain or GI discomfort.
If your primary care physician identifies symptoms of a chronic GI condition or other warning signs, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist like myself. A gastroenterologist can help determine if your stomach pain or GI symptoms are related to stress, or due to another condition that requires different treatment.
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Stress Is Biggest Factor When It Comes To Stomach Problems Research Suggests
Life reporter at HuffPost UK
The majority of British adults have suffered from some kind of gastrointestinal problem over the past year.
Now, new research from Mintel has discovered what might be to blame.
It suggests that stress is the most likely factor contributing towards stomach issues, closely followed by poor diet, lack of sleep, alcohol consumption and viruses.
Experts have suggested that ultimately we need to become better at managing stress, rather than searching for remedies and cures.
Gastrointestinal problems can be anything from trapped wind, bloating, and indigestion to diarrhoea, heartburn, stomach ulcers, constipation and more.
As many as 86% of all British adults have suffered some form of gastrointestinal problem over the last year, Mintel’s research of 2,000 British adults found.
Women came off worst, with almost nine in 10 experiencing some kind of stomach issue in the last year compared to 83% of men.
Stress was seen as the most likely factor contributing towards stomach problems, with some 30% of adults saying their stomach woes were caused by it.
“The bowels are extraordinarily susceptible to stress and mood,” Dr Helen Webberley, the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy, told The Huffington Post UK.
“The typical symptoms of wind, bloating, pain and diarrhoea, that we see with irritable bowel sufferers, are well known to be worse during stressful times.”
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What Can You Do
You do not have to be a passive victim of anxiety-triggered diarrhea. There are a variety of stress management techniques that you can use to help your body to become more resilient in its response to outside stressors.
Two activities that have been associated with reducing your body’s baseline anxiety level are yoga and meditation. Practicing one or both of these on a regular basis will help you to deal more effectively with the stressful situations in your life that arise.
There are also some relaxation techniques that you can use “on the spot” to help your body to turn off the stress response and thus hopefully quiet down your bowels, sparing you from further diarrhea episodes. These include visualization, deep breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation exercises. Like all skills, these relaxation exercises are more effective when they are practiced on a regular basis.
If you are under a lot of stress a lot of the time, it is also important to take an objective look at your life to see if changes can be made to reduce your overall stress level. Problem-solving and assertiveness skills can be utilized to make your life more comfortable.
It may be helpful to initiate some psychotherapy to help you to better manage the stresses and challenges that are contributing to your stress-induced diarrhea.
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You Find Yourself Vomiting When You’re Stressed
Norepinephrine is a brain chemical that is found to be affected in people with anxiety, and an ingredient in some anxiety medication. If you are dealing with vomiting, your norepinephrine levels might be being affected by your anxiety.
” norepinephrine may be the culprit,” Dr. Bostic says. “It decreases blood flow to the gut and slow release of gastric juices and digestive enzymes.” If you’re on meds, checking in with your psychiatrist about any possible side effects is crucial.
You Feel A Rock In Your Stomach
Norepinephrine doesn’t just cause vomiting, it can also create a more low-grade, long-term nausea that sticks around. If you have high-functioning anxiety and are used to feeling “off,” your body might be experiencing an imbalance of this chemical.
“Norepinephrine release may be the culprit ,” similarly because blood isn’t flowing as much to your gut, Dr. Bostic says. “If it’s the feeling of a rock in your stomach, it’s a reasonable guess that norepinephrine is involved.” Especially if you’re already anxious, you don’t deserve to feel this constantly uncomfortable, so getting help is important.
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Stress And The Sensitive Gut
Psychotherapy may help ease persistent gastrointestinal distress.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders affect 35% to 70% of people at some point in life, women more often than men. These disorders have no apparent physical cause such as infection or cancer yet result in pain, bloating, and other discomfort.
Multiple factors biological, psychological, and social contribute to the development of a functional gastrointestinal disorder. Numerous studies have suggested that stress may be particularly important, however. The relationship between environmental or psychological stress and gastrointestinal distress is complex and bidirectional: stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa. This is why psychological therapies are often used in combination with other treatments or even on their own to treat functional gastrointestinal disorders.
The enteric nervous system as a second brain
Psychotherapy options for gastrointestinal distress
Cognitive behavioral therapy . This standby of psychotherapy helps patients to change counterproductive thoughts and behavior and learn coping skills to better manage stress and anxiety. CBT may be most useful in helping patients to cope with persistent gastrointestinal distress, rather than reducing pain.
Why Does Stress Cause Stomach Pain Or Gi Discomfort
We know through research there is a strong connection between our brain and our gut through the central nervous system. The enteric nervous system an out-branching of the central nervous system serves the GI tract, making a direct connection between our brain and gastrointestinal system. That connection can cause normal physiologic processes to be interpreted as painful under stressful or anxiety-provoking situations.
When were stressed, hormones and neurotransmitters are released in the body. This can negatively impact gut motility, or the way our intestines and stomach squeeze and move waste through the body. Also, stress can affect the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut, causing GI discomfort.
People experiencing chronic stress may also eat more or eat unhealthy foods with a higher amount of natural and artificial sugar that is poorly digested and causes GI distress. People may also smoke and drink more alcohol or caffeine than normal which can cause symptoms.
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Common Bowel Anxiety Symptoms:
- Abdominal distress, pain, pressure, fullness, discomfort
- Abdominal fullness
- Intestinal rumbling, growling, gurgling, and other sounds and feelings
- Slow transit time
- Warm sensation in the stomach
Bowel anxiety symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist 24/7 day after day. For example, you have bowel problems once in a while and not that often, have them off and on, or have problems with your bowels all the time and every day.
Bowel problems can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
They can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur “out of the blue” and for no apparent reason.
Bowel anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. They can also come in waves where they are strong one moment and ease off the next.
Bowel anxiety symptoms can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background to your struggle with anxiety disorder.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
Bowel problems can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.
Yes, anxiety can cause many gastrointestinal problems, such as the bowel problems and symptoms we mentioned.
Here are a few of the most common reasons why:
What Are The Symptoms Of Stomach Stress
There are many terms we already use to describe the symptoms of stomach stress. We probably use these without even realising it.
Terms such as gut feeling or butterflies in the stomach, can be key indicators that stress is building up. Often, as already mentioned, the first we may be aware of the stress were experiencing is when our stomach turns over.
If the stress passes, then so will this sensation. However, chronic and ongoing stress can lead to disruptions that may last long after the stress has subsided.
The sensation of bloating and the visible distention can worsen during these periods of stress. Other digestive symptoms such as reflux and altered bowel patterns can also occur.
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How To Calm An Anxious Stomach: The Brain
Ever wonder why you get butterflies in your stomach before doing something stressful? Or why you feel like your stomach is tied in knots after an argument? Ever had a meeting with a toilet that went longer than expected and it wasnt caused by anything you ate? Stomach problems are one of the most common symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Researchers have identified a powerful connection between the gut and the brain. Like the brain, the gut is full of nerves. It contains the largest area of nerves outside the brain with the digestive tract and the brain sharing many of the same nerve connections.
Whether its a single nerve-wracking event or chronic worry and stress over time, stress can exact a physical toll on your digestive system. When you are anxious, some of the hormones and chemicals released by your body enter your digestive tract, where they interfere with digestion. They have a negative effect on your gut flora and decrease antibody production. The resulting chemical imbalance can cause a number of gastrointestinal conditions.
Common stress-related gut symptoms and conditions include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- and peptic ulcers
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