Stress and the Digestive System: Is It Avoidable?

We’ve all been there: You’re late to a meeting, you have a big presentation that can hinder the future of your job and the traffic in front of you is at a standstill. As the stress piles up, you feel your stomach begin to turn upside down. Are you sick? Did you eat something bad for breakfast? More often than not (in this case) you’re just stressed out. So, why does your stress effect your digestive system this way? We know it makes our palms sweaty, head ache, and hearts to race, but can stress really give you an upset stomach?

The answer is yes.

Why does stress affect the digestive system?

For the last decade, doctors have been studying the correlation between stress and the digestive system. The entire system is extremely sensitive to our moods. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion and heartburn can not only be brought on by stress, but worsened by it as well. Why is this? “When the brain feels severely stressed, it releases a cascade of hormones that can put the whole digestive system into an uproar,” writes Chris Woolston, MS, HealthDay®. As reported in the 2004 issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, IBS is even more sensitive to the stress that comes from major life changes, such as a family death of loss of a job.

What can you do about it?

It is believed in the industry that roughly 80 percent of IBS sufferers sit in silence. Your first step is to recognize the issue, whether it be stress related or 100 percent physical. For elevated stress levels, exercise and meditation are the most recommended. Learning how to deal with the ups and downs that life presents will go a long way in managing stress symptoms. Calming your mind before you calm your stomach should be step one.

If your digestive symptoms linger or worsen, don’t suffer in silence. Here at Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey (GANJ), our highly skilled team of physicians will work to get you back on track healing mind, body and soul. We’ve all heard the expression “listen to your gut”. When your digestive system is out of whack, its message to you may be to live life and learn to relax.