Your neck and shoulders are tight. You have what feels like a constant headache. And you have a true pit in your stomach, consisting of a nagging stomach ache and a bloated gut.
You do not have to have IBS to see an impact of stress on your digestive system.
Did you know that there are thousands of neural connections between our brain and our gut? There is constant communication between our brain and gut and they are extremely interconnected in their function. So it is no wonder that stress can impact our gut function and result in stomach issues you don’t normally experience.
Well here at Making Lemonade we totally feel yah. Those with IBS have super sensitive stomachs and stress can really tip the scales from having a good symptom day to not, regardless of what we are eating.
So on the positive train of sharing-is-caring, here are a few ways I try to optimize my gut and reduce the negative impact stress can have on it!
There are so many incredible benefits to using peppermint! In a recent review on the benefits of using peppermint, they found it could improve respiratory function, reduce inflammation, and most importantly, help to relax the muscles in our gut to reduce GI symptoms.
Research shows that peppermint works to reduce the spasms that happen in the smooth muscle in our gut, and in turn help with a list of digestive issues, from diarrhea to nausea to stomach cramps. Which we all could be experiencing right now with the rising stress levels.
Drinking peppermint tea is one of my favourite ways to introduce peppermint into my life. Especially when my stomach is upset.
But another way that you can get your dose of peppermint is to use peppermint essential oils.
There are 2 ways that I have used peppermint essential oils for my gut. I either use empty veggie capsules and fill them with a few drops of peppermint oil, or depending on where you buy your essential oils, you can often get beadlets that already have the peppermint oil inside.
I use doTerra essential oils for my gut health stuff, and they are a great company and have tons of options for peppermint, as well as a variety of essential oils that are also said to be helpful for sore stomachs.
This might be a controversial suggestion, but personally one of my go-to’s to help with an upset or bloated stomach is kombucha.
Let me explain.
Kombucha is a fermented tea that is created with what is called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Although kombucha is commonly known to be of benefit to your digestive system, it is also considered a High-FODMAP food. Thus, why the recommendation may be controversial in the IBS community, because in some individuals this may be an irritant.
However, there are 2 main reasons why I am actually suggesting kombucha as a remedy to help with your current stomach issues.
ONE: Through my journey I have actually discovered, ironic as it is, kombucha has been a reliever for me, and not an irritant. So it is possible that even if you have IBS and/or are following the low-FODMAP lifestyle, this could be the case for you as well.
TWO: If you do not have IBS, and you are just looking for some relief from the stress-induced stomach ache, the bacteria within the kombucha is proven to be helpful for the gut.
Additionally, some experts actually recommend against bubbly drinks like kombucha and ginger ale when you are feeling bloated, but I personally find the bubbles help to settle my symptoms. Although, this might not be the case for everyone.
Anyone remember your mom giving you ginger ale as a kid to settle your tummy ache?
Although the ginger in the ginger ale is likely the main reason for the suggestion, I also find the bubbles are such a benefit for me.
Again take this advice with a grain of salt. This is my experience and what has helped me. But if you want to try some different strategies to tackle that stomach ache try this one out! Try a little at a time and see how your system responds. You never know, you might have found a new go-to comfort for that pesky stomach ache.
Sometimes when you are feeling bloated or unwell the last thing you want to do is to do a workout.
"Nah, I'll stay right here in my fetal position watching Netflix, thank you very much!"
Although that all sounds like a viable option, getting your body moving can honestly be a great way to reduce symptoms. It can just depend on the level of intensity of the exercise that you are doing.
High-intensity exercise like going for a run or doing a HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workout can actually reduce the blood flow to the intestines, reducing the function of our gut. If we are not functioning properly, that can increase the symptoms you already have.
BUT none of these problems are found with low-intensity exercise like yoga, walking, pilates or biking. So if you are feeling unwell already instead of turning on that high-intensity work-out video, opt for a lower intensity work-out. That way you still get the great effects of exercising ( like all those stress-reducing endorphins!) without aggravating your stomach further.
I also like it because it is such a healthy distraction from the discomfort you might be feeling right now. It’s a positive way to take the focus off the negative symptoms and onto something that is working to improve your mindset instead.
Box breathing is a great way to reset.
It is a way that we can switch from that fight or flight mode in our body to rest and digest. And in times of stress, this is exactly what our bodies need.
How it works:
You can also play around with how long you inhale, exhale, and hold your breath at either end. Wean into it slowly starting with shorter time spans and increase as you feel comfortable. If at any point you feel light-headed you can return to regular breathing and try again with shorter holds.
The purpose is to transfer your focus to your breath and take the focus off of your symptoms, your anxiety, or whatever has captured your attention that day. And it honestly has such positive effects on our mindset!
Sometimes, we can experience those IBS-like symptoms from how we are eating rather than what we are eating.
We all know that eating too much at once can bring on that bloated feeling.
Umm Hello, Christmas dinner anyone? Piling food on top of others because there is no more room on the plate. And then comes dessert ... I know I am guilty of it. So if your stomach is a little extra sensitive right now, try eating some smaller meals and maybe more often instead.
Eating too quickly can also trigger these symptoms.
So one of the best things you can do to try to tackle these eating habits is to practice some mindful eating! Yes, it’s a thing.
You will be amazed at when you are actually full and satisfied with your meal. It is often a lot sooner than you expect.
Try to really listen to your body and when it tells you that you are full, stop eating! These mindful techniques are simple but super effective in getting some control over your symptoms or mitigating them when your stress has gone a little haywire.
Regardless of whether you have IBS or not, what we put into our bodies will have an effect on how our gut functions.
Ever eaten a big mac meal (with a Mcflurry on the side) and felt like crap after? Or the morning after a night of drinking and you have a stomach ache for the entire day. Orrrr you ate an entire row (or 2) out of the cookie box and you felt a bit like a blown-up balloon a couple of hours later.
There is no judgement here, promise. I have been here, and I feel like it’s important to find balance. But it is just a reminder that food impacts all of us. And certain types of food and drinks often have more of a negative effect on our bodies than others.
Alcohol is no exception to this. And although we all feel like we need a drink or two right now, alcohol is a gut irritant. With increased anxiety during these uncertain times our gut is not functioning optimally and will likely react more negatively than normal to these kinds of irritants.
So one way that we can soothe our gut, and give it a bit a of a break, is to try to reduce these food irritants as much as we can for right now.
Some of these irritants include:
So the next time you or the chosen one in your household goes out on an adventure to the grocery store or you put in your order for delivery, think of those delicious whole foods instead.
Some great options include:
You can also use Canada’s Food Guide (recently updated!) as a guide to fuel your body and take it easy on your gut while your mind battles through these uncertain times.
Last but not least, let’s show ourselves some love.
One of the amazing tools that I have learned from my pelvic physiotherapist is called the ILU massage ( get it? I Love you!)
ILU is a technique that pelvic physio’s will give to patients with gut issues, like constipation, cramping, and gut discomfort. Although this technique is often directed towards people with IBS, it definitely can still be helpful for anyone experiencing these types of symptoms.
Pelvic Health Solutions is an education service for both practitioners and patients and they have an amazing description of the ILU technique that you can check out at this link !
Keep in mind that these strategies work well for me, but they may not be for everyone. Stress and gut issues are so individual, and this is your journey. My hope is that I can just make it a little bit less bumpy. I hope some of these strategies give you some relief from any stomach issues or in someway reduce any stress you might be experiencing right now. But if you have any specific medical issues or questions please reach out to a local health professional for help. As always, what I share is for information only, and shoulde not be considered a substitute for medical advice.
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