Let’s look at how stress reduction can help our gut.
Reduce stress – for your gut
As I’ve mentioned, gut issues can affect your stress level and moods, but it works the other way around too. If you have gut issues, then reducing your stress may help some of them.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are considered to be “biopsychosocial” diseases. This means that they’re not just physical issues, but stress and lifestyle plays a key role in them as well.
In fact, people with IBS have higher-than-normal levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. They also spent less time in nature as children, and live in dense urban spaces.
And, people who report high levels of stress can go on to develop gut issues.
All of these can worsen gut symptoms by increasing the number and severity of flare ups.
How does the microbiota-gut-brain axis work for these gut issues?
Stress – and how we perceive stress – influences many gastrointestinal functions.
These include the microbiota, how well food moves through it (motility), secretion of important biochemicals, as well as how tightly the gut cells adhere to each other (permeability).
Reducing stress is a strategy to reduce all of these negative effects and try to improve gut symptoms. Stress can also stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and the release of stress hormones, as well as inhibit the vagus nerve and contribute to inflammation.
Some experts say “mind-body” therapies are the most effective treatments for IBS.
Mind-body therapies include hypnotherapy, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Individual counselling or participating in support groups can also help.
Gut-directed hypnotherapy, for example, induces a state of relaxation while verbally suggesting improvements and coping skills.
Mindfulness teaches how to observe one’s current experience, thoughts, and feelings, and to learn to apply neutral emotional attention to them.
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), also known as tapping, is another simple, low-tech way of releasing min-body connections that no longer serve you.
Tapping can be used with scripts (writing out a script directing a person to release chronic anxiety related to a common gut-disturbing trigger such as flying is an example) or can be used free-form (when confronted with an emotional reaction to a food, for example).
Mindfulness can help people to notice symptoms and sensations in the gut and distinguish those from the thoughts and emotions surrounding those sensations.
A review of 12 studies found that mind-body approaches were effective in helping some IBS symptoms. These were improvements in both mental health symptoms, and quality of life for gut symptoms.
One of the best-proven things we can do, is to take a few deep belly breaths several times per day. It is so simple, yet incredibly powerful!
The researchers recommend more studies in this area.
The “hygiene hypothesis” has concluded that we have over-sanitized our world, and could use a little bit more dirt – playing in dirt, in the forest, and in estuaries where microbial life is diverse. Early exposure to a variety of bacteria, fungi and other ‘germs’ at a young age can be very helpful.
It seems breathing in, being covered in, and even ‘eating’ bacteria can help us to develop more robust, more diverse microbiomes, if we get exposed early enough.
If it is too late for that, walking and breathing in the forest or by bodies of water, even keeping dogs (and letting sleep in the bed!) can be helpful, even as adults. The bonus?
It is very calming too!
Also, eat lots of organic and farm-fresh or garden-fresh plants. Better yet, spend the time where plants grow.
Garden therapy, properly referred to as “Horticultural Therapy” is a fascinating confluence of botanical learning, physical activity and herbal medicine with counselling and therapy. The time in nature and sunshine and with one’s hands in bacterially-rich soil are other potential reasons it is healing.
In conclusion, mind-body therapies, nature-immersion, play with pets and changing the way you perceive stress can all help your guts to relax.
I hope this offered some insights into good, soothing gut healing practices.
Try some of them out!
Tune in soon for a recipe for the best gut-healing recipe ever – the Ultimate Bone Broth.