I got sick a few years ago, with IBS type symptoms, that turned out to be due to parasites in my gut (Blastocystis Hominis and Dientamoeba Fragilis to name names!).
Nowadays, I’ve cleared up the parasites but that doesn’t mean I don’t get gut symptoms anymore.
Occasionally I get a flare-up of symptoms, and what I’ve noticed is this happens at the times when I’m the most stressed out, even when my diet is still good. And this happens for many other people.
We can have our diet dialed so that it’s perfect, and we can be exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, but if we are constantly stressed out, this can be causing us problems.
And this is backed up by research in mice, that have found stress affects the gut microbiota to the same degree as a poor diet.
From what we know, when we are stressed out and in flight or fight mode, blood is redirected from our gut and digestion to the muscles so we are ready to run away from a perceived threat. In the body’s view, digestion is just not important at that time. As the gut is serviced by a multitude of neurons, it makes perfect sense that stress and our modern hectic lives affects our gut. We are in survival mode, rather than thriving!
What this means is that if we are our stressed, our attempts to treat small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), parasites, or IBS may not be effective, or they appear to work, but symptoms soon return after treatment.
There is an intimate connection between our gut and our brain, called the gut-brain axis. This means that we need to deal with excessive stress before our guts can heal fully.
And yes, this can be hard!
It can be easier to pop a pill, or change your diet, rather than address stress which can seem to be just a result of a modern lifestyle. We may need to take a step back, and deeply see how we relate to ourselves and all aspects of our lives.
Are you always on the lookout for danger?
Our brains are constantly monitoring all aspects of our physiology, including our breath hormones, nervous system and gut, as well as the outside world. Every situation we find ourselves in and every thought we have affects our body’s chemistry on a molecular level.
The brain is always calculating am I safe or am I under threat
One of the big issues with the way we treat stress today is that we tackle it from only one angle. Whereas our stress levels are built up by many small stressful events throughout the day. We can’t tackle overwhelm from work stress, solely by meditating for 15 minutes in the morning or having a glass of wine after work.
It is better to work with stress in all its forms: psychological, emotional, dietary, physical and chemical stress. Michael Neil offers a good introduction on ending psychological and emotional stress here.
Many find brain retraining programs such as the GUPTA and DNRS programs helpful.
What can you do less of to reduce stress in your life?
All too often, we think about what else we can do, even when we are looking at reducing stress.
“I’ve heard that yoga is good for you, I probably should be doing that. And walking? In the sun? For 30 minutes every day, on waking??? How am I going to have time for all this..”
The best place to start is to reflect on what you are doing now, that you don’t really need to be doing, or that is something that maybe someone else can do that is taking up your time and energy. Think about it now. Maybe, you could do this less?
What can you do more of to help balance stress
I fully acknowledge, lowering and managing stress is a lifetime’s journey. Our ultimate goal is to move you from being in a state of just getting by (survival) to one of vitality and wellbeing (thriving). Here’s a little exercise to get you started
Write down 3 things that you could do that have brought you joy in the past and put a smile to your face, put a glint in your eye. Look over your list and feel a sense of possibility.
Now see how many of these things you can do in the next week.
Activities that bring you joy are a form of active rest and will help you recoup far quicker than binge watching the latest show on Netflix.
Sleep is also the foundation on which our body can heal. Have your noticed how your gut doesn’t feel so good when you haven’t slept well?
Improving your sleep is about making it a priority. You can’t will yourself to sleep but you can make sleep a priority. Aim for at least 8 hours sleep if possible during this time to allow your body to heal (most healing occurs whilst you sleep). See my article here for a bit more help if you have sleep issues..
Here are a few other suggestions to get you started:
- Take time-out for yourself in nature. This is scientifically proven and is now actually prescribed by doctors in Scotland
- Breath is the key to our nervous system. 4-7-8 breathing is an easy and powerful place to start
- You can interrupt anxious thinking during the day using this simple one minute exercise (exercises like this and focussing on breathing are more important that one-off meditation or yoga sessions)
- If you want to go deeper. Watch this on the root cause of stress
- Past traumas can affect us in the present day. If you feel this is you, reach out for some help from a professional.
- Gut cantered hypno-therapy is a thing and can be effective to reduce stress that is driving a gut issue