Sometimes stomach issues can be hard to understand. If you didn’t eat any “problem” foods or don’t have a stomach bug, what could possibly be causing your digestive issues?
It might be stress. Stress, especially chronic stress, can boost the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues. It can impact the digestive system through the nervous system, affecting food movement and the balance of gut bacteria. Stress can also cause people to eat poorly, which may also lead to symptoms.
Outside of your brain, the gut has the greatest area of nerves. Neurons lining the digestive tract signal muscle cells to contract to help move food through, breaking it down into nutrients and waste. The interaction between the enteric system in your gut and your central nervous system is known as the “gut-brain axis” and may help explain why stress can cause digestive problems.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress may exacerbate or increase the risk of:
• bloating, burping, gas
• heartburn, acid reflux, GERD
• nausea and vomiting
• inflammatory bowel syndrome
Stress may contribute to bloating, burping, and gassiness but making swallowing difficult. It can also slow the digestive process, allowing gut bacteria to create gas. Exercise may help. as can avoiding gum, using straws, and drinking carbonated drinks.
Emotional stress may lead to increased stomach acid production, which can lead to heartburn, acid reflux, and exacerbate GERD. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet, eating smaller meals, not eating too close to bed, and avoiding carbonated beverages may help.
Stress hormones can also lead to diarrhea or constipation. On the one hand, it can boost serotonin, which stimulates the intestines to cause contractions in the colon that can result in diarrhea. On the other, it can divert blood away from the intestines and cause the digestive process to come to a halt.
It’s possible your stomach issues are caused by stress. Think about how potential stressors in your life could be manifesting in your gut, and work on ways to manage them.