How stress affects digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes

Digestive and gut upsets are strongly associated with high stress levels.

During stressful periods, adrenaline and cortisol levels are elevated and digestive function is severely impaired, reducing the amount of saliva, stomach acid and digestive enzymes, and slowing down the rhythmic wave-like contractions (peristalsis) in the bowel, that can lead to constipation.

Food cannot get broken down properly, nutrient absorption is impaired and wastes are not eliminated regularly, leading to bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps, headaches, fatigue, skin problems, depression, weight gain and an increased risk of auto-immune diseases.

So what do we do to try and alleviate the stress. Well first of all:

BREATHE – take some deep breaths and just concentrate on your breath – in and out.  Concentrate on the way your chest expands as you inhale and deflates as you exhale. The removes the focus from the stress, and gets you to concentrate on something else. When I was going through a particularly stressful time in the early 1990’s, when I felt as though my whole life was falling apart, I turned to hatha yoga and meditation, and both helped immensely. During those classes, we spent lots of time concentrating on just breathing correctly and all of my focus went into that so that I completely forgot what I was stressed about.

MOVE – get up and move around. Put the radio on and have a dance around, providing you’re not at work of course. If you’re at work, get away from your desk; go to the loo for a bit of ‘space’, or try and get outside in the fresh air.  I love dancing. I’m a 1970’s child and I grew up dancing to Earth, Wind & Fire, Abba and Rod Stewart.  I still love dancing to 70’s music. It makes me feel good, and it’s good to move and get the ‘juices’ flowing.

SMILE – Apparently it takes 26 muscles to smile and over 60 to frown, so save energy and smile more.

Kevin and me still laughing after 41 years together.

LAUGH – You’ve heard the old adage that ‘laughter is the best medicine’ and it really is.  Find your favourite comedy film or comedian, make yourself your favourite drink, curl up on the settee, turn off all your devices and enjoy.  I remember as a child watching Laurel & Hardy with my Dad.  We would laugh out loud. Good memories. I’ve been married to Kevin for 37 years, but we’ve been together 41 years, since I was 16 and he 17.  People ask us our secret to being together for so long. Well it’s simple really – we laugh, a lot! Kevin has a great sense of  ‘northern’ humour and he’s always  had the ability to make me laugh. Don’t get me wrong, ours is not a perfect marriage, we argue too, but as long as the laughter outweighs the arguing, all is well.

TALK – personally I am terrible at this – sharing my feelings with people, even my closest friends.  I am getting better though, but I always feel as though I’m being a burden, and I suppose being a natural health therapist, I am the one that should be doing the listening and helping, not the other way around.  Speak to any therapist though, and they will tell you a similar story.  That aside, please do share your stresses and problems with someone you trust. It doesn’t have to be a family member, friend or work colleague even.  Go down to your local Salvation Army Citadel.  They have regular coffee mornings where you can talk to their counsellors in a safe, non-threatening, non-judgemental environment.

SHIFT YOUR FOCUS – Focus on what’s good about your life and spend some time focussing on this. It’s so easy to focus on what’s going wrong that we sometimes forget the good things in our lives.  Do something different other than thinking about the stress. I know it’s not easy, but you can do it with practice, honestly.

Stress is a killer, the biggest killer in the world, responsible for tens of millions of heart attacks and strokes, so we need to get a better handle on it. Find out ways to feel in control.  Much of stress is caused by our feelings of not being in control, and this puts us into ‘fight or flight’ mode.  Try and work out what really relaxes you and do more of it!

Here’s a few anti-stress foods that may help to:

  • Green leafy and highly coloured vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Pasture-fed meat
  • Cold water fish. If you don’t like oily fish, take a daily supplement in the form of an Omega 3 capsule)
  • Good quality dairy
  • Whole grains
  • Onions, garlic, leeks and chives