Have you ever heard someone refer to the gut as “the second brain”? This is because our gut-brain connection is stronger than you might realize. Like the brain, your gut is filled with nerves called the enteric nervous system or ENS. Feelings, such as anger, sadness or happiness can cause symptoms to arise in our gut, as the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. However, this connection goes both ways with the gut sending signals to the brain and vice versa. This can be very true in terms when experiencing anxiety and stress.
If you have ever felt “butterflies in your stomach”, it’s usually due to feeling nervous prior to a stressful situation, such as a presentation or job interview. When you are stressed or anxious, your body can release hormones and chemicals that enter the digestive system and can have an effect on the microorganisms that live along your gut. This helps digestion, while decreasing antibody production and this imbalance can cause many symptoms such as:
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
Some other signs of a gut imbalance are sleep disturbances, constant fatigue, or unintentional weight changes. Gut health is incredibly important for not only our physical health, but our mental health, as well. Here are some things that you can do to improve it:
1. Lower Your Stress Levels. This is something that can not only affect your gut, but your whole body. Stress, especially chronic stress, can play a harmful role if not managed correctly. Some ways you lower stress may include meditation, taking a walk outside, using essential oils, yoga, or spending time with family and friends.
2. High Quality Sleep. We all know the importance of sleep, but how many of us get the right amount? The goal is about 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. If you have trouble doing so, try to avoid technology an hour before bed or buy a sleep mask to keep out light. Excess stress can also contribute to low quality sleep, which is why “lowering your stress levels” is so crucial.
3. Eat Slowly. Not only should you work on eating slowly, but also pay mind to when and how you eat. Ideally, it’s a good idea to sit down and really focus on your meal. Take your time eating, if you can, and when you are finished, try not to lay down right after. If you have the time, take even a quick 10–15-minute walk to help aid with digestion further.
4. Change Your Diet. While delicious, sugary foods, along with caffeine, are usually known to increase anxiety levels. An increase in anxiety and stress could then have an effect on your overall gut health. Not only that, but a diet high in added sugars can decrease the good bacteria in your gut, as well as increase inflammation. Try incorporating more whole foods, along with fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt or kimchi.
5. Talk to Someone. If you have been having a lot of gut issues and you are not sure where to start, it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor or nutritionist. They will be able to discuss next steps, such as diet, exercise, sleep or even a possible probiotic to take.
Remember, achieving good gut health will not happen overnight, especially if you have been dealing with things such as chronic stress, low quality sleep or unhealthy food choices for a while. That being said, a healthy gut contributes to a good immune system, heart health, brain health and even improved mood, so the lifestyle changes will be worth it.
Staff Blogger: Mollie Clupper
Mollie Clupper works for MHA as a Communications and Support Specialist. Using her own experiences, she wants to help bring awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, drinking coffee, and spending time with her fur-niece.