Traffic jams. Upcoming deadlines. Too much to do and not enough time. We are all familiar with the feeling of being stressed. Your jaw clenches, your breath quickens, and your stomach churns. You may even find yourself easily distracted or laying awake at night.
We’ve all been there, and we’ve all been told that we need to relax more because too much stress can wreak havoc on our health. And that’s true. Prolonged feelings of stress can impact your brain, your heart, and so much more. What you may not realize, though, is that excessive stress can also affect your gut health. Before we dive into that though, it’s important to understand the basics of how stress works.
Stress and Your Body
Stress is a normal part of your fight-or-flight response. In fact, it is what pushes us to make a decision in the face of difficult or uncomfortable situations. During the times of our very ancient ancestors, this response was what pushed them to either fight or flee when in the face of danger. While today our chances of coming face to face with a tiger and having to fight for our lives are slim, there are a great number of things that occur in our daily lives that can trigger our stress response. And when our stress response is triggered repeatedly, it can really put your body through the wringer, which can impact a number of areas within your body.
- Your Muscles. One of your body’s natural reactions to stress is tension. We all naturally tense certain muscles throughout our body, like our jaws or our shoulders, when we feel stressed. This tension slowly subsides as the source of our stress fades, but if the stress is ongoing or we are encountering one stressful situation after another, it can take its toll on our muscles. This can lead to headaches, knots in your neck, or general pain or discomfort in other areas of your body.
- Your Heart. Oxygen travels through your body thanks to a collaborative effort between your heart and blood vessels, which together make up your cardiovascular system. Stress can interrupt this process. It can cause your heart rate to increase, which results in more blood being pumped through your vessels than necessary. Your body is built to handle short spurts of this; however, ongoing stress can do damage to your very important cardiovascular system.
- Your lungs. When stress causes your heart rate to increase, your lungs go into double-time trying to keep up. They will start to expand and contract rapidly in an attempt to get more oxygen into your body. However, at the same time stress can cause your airways to constrict, meaning you take in less air with each breath. This combination of reactions is what causes many of us to hyperventilate in stressful situations, which causes extra wear and tear on our lungs and the rest of our respiratory system.
Stress And Your Gut
Chronic stress is also known to have an impact on your gut health, thanks to something known as the gut-brain axis. This is a bidirectional link between your gastrointestinal (GI) tract and your central nervous system. In more simple terms, this connection allows your brain and gut to communicate in both directions and have a direct impact on each other.
At the center of this connection is the vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It is made up of approximately 500 billion neurons, about 100 million of which are estimated to reside in your brain alone.
The vagus nerve also facilitates a biochemical connection between these two organs through the use of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine as well as metabolites like short-chain fatty acids.
Scientists still don’t understand many of the details about how the gut-brain axis works, but one thing is for sure: there is an intimate connection between the gut and the brain that allows the health of one to impact the other. When you’re dealing with ongoing stress, the signals that are sent via the vagus nerve can be inhibited, which can ultimately lead to digestive issues.
Interrupting the gut-brain axis isn’t the only way stress can impact your gut, it also has a direct impact on your gut permeability. In short, gut permeability refers to the barrier between your gut and the rest of your body and how easily substances can get through it. A more permeable gut means more substances can leak through your gut barrier and enter your bloodstream. As part of its natural stress response, your body releases peptides called corticotropin-releasing factors (CFR) which are known to increase gut permeability. The more permeable your gut becomes, the more likely it is that particles that should stay in your gut will enter your bloodstream, which can cause a variety of health concerns.
It’s easy to see that chronic stress can wreak havoc on your gut health and your overall wellbeing. There is good news though – stress is completely manageable. You can incorporate simple techniques like exercise, meditation, journaling, and deep breathing into your daily routine to help manage your stress and improve your overall health.
Manage Your Stress, Improve Your Gut Health
Stress is a part of our human journey. Instead of letting it overtake us, we can harness it and handle it the right way. Making small changes to your daily routine to help reduce stress can make a world of difference when it comes to your overall health and wellness. That’s why we consider stress management a part of living the #NewEarthLife.
If you’re looking for some help along your journey to better gut health, we invite you to join us for a 30-Day Gut Reboot. You’ll become part of a supportive community of people who are all working toward the same goal–making small changes to their routine that will lead to a healthy gut and a healthier you. So go ahead, join us and start your journey to better health today.
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