How Stress Affects Digestion?

Did you ever have to make a gut-wrenching decision or a decision under stress? Or have you ever felt your stomach churning with anxiety? If so, you know the impact stress has on your digestive system.

The gut and the brain are continuously speaking to one another. In actuality, it has more neurons than the entire spinal cord.

Every component of the digestive system gets impacted by stress.

The gut is regulated with the central neural system in the brain and spinal cord. Moreover, it has a separate network of neurons called the enteric or intrinsic nervous system in the lining of the digestive tract. The gut's nervous system has such a profound impact that some experts view it as a second brain.

The enteric neural system made up of the 100 million nerve cells that line the interior of the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus to the rectum, controls a variety of digestive functions, including −

  • Swallow food

  • Release of enzymes for breaking down the food.

  • Food is classified as either nutrients or waste products.

Stress impacts how well your body performs these activities.

What Happens to your Body Under Stress?

The sympathetic nervous system, a component of the autonomic nervous system, that controls bodily processes like heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure, react to potentially dangerous situations by inducing a response of "fight-or-flight". It helps release cortisol (stress hormone) for preparing the body for untoward situations.

A higher level of awareness, faster heart and breathing rates, raised blood pressure, an increase in blood cholesterol, and more tense muscles are all physiological changes brought on by stress.

According to doctors, stress that triggers the flight-or-flight reaction in your neural system might have an impact on your digestive system by −

  • Causing spasms in your esophagus

  • Increasing the stomach's acid production, which causes indigestion

  • Making you feel queasy

  • Giving you constipation or diarrhea

In extreme situations, stress may reduce the amount of blood and oxygen reaching the stomach, and result in cramps, inflammation, or a bacterial imbalance in the gut. Moreover, it may worsen gastrointestinal conditions like −

  • Peptic ulcers

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Although stress may not directly cause inflammatory bowel disease or stomach ulcers, it can exacerbate these and other digestive problems. Hence, take precautions to remain in control during stressful situations and learn how to maintain your composure.

What are the ways of Managing Stress?

There are many ways of relieving stress. However, not all techniques will work for everyone. Listed below are some methods that one can try.

Engaging in Regular Exercises

Regular physical activities help reduce stress level and helps release endorphins. These are brain chemicals that have painkilling properties. According to doctors, endorphins help to sleep better and reduce stress.

It's one of the best methods for controlling stress and preserving digestive health.


By teaching you to replace negative, distorted beliefs with good ones, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a strategy that has helped reduce anxiety and tension. A study examined how well CBT treated depression, anxiety, and quality of life issues in people with IBD.

For three and a half months, patients with IBD who reported a low quality of life were randomly assigned to receive regular medical care in addition to a CBT intervention. Those with IBD who received CBT reported better quality of life and decreased levels of anxiety and sadness when compared to a control group.

Opt for Stress-Relieving Foods

Obesity and eating problems are linked to psychological stress, according to research. The hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands, also makes people hungry. Food preferences can also be impacted by stress. Consuming foods that are heavy in fat, sugar, or both increase when one is physically or emotionally distressed.

Nonetheless, some foods help to lessen anxiety. Salmon is a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids, and enhances the mood organically. The mineral Magnesium enables in controlling Cortisol levels. It is found abundantly in almonds. Moreover, citrus fruits like oranges and others contain vitamin C, which can reduce blood pressure.

Practicing Yoga

Different breathing exercises, meditation and yoga poses help in reducing stress effectively. Women who participated in hour-long yoga lessons three times a week for 12 sessions saw significant decreases in stress, anxiety, and sadness. Moreover, studies have shown that yoga can lower heart rate and blood pressure.

Practicing Meditation

You can acquire calmness by using one of the various meditation techniques that can help you focus your attention on a thing, activity, or thought. Stress reduction is a secondary effect of meditation even though that is not its sole objective.

Consuming Prebiotics and Probiotics

Including prebiotics and probiotics in the diet is a good idea. It helps in bettering the gut health.

Prebiotics are found in inulin-rich fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, bananas, garlic, and onions. Probiotics are found in yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods.

Prebiotics and probiotics can change the composition of the gut microbiome's bacterial population, fostering the conditions necessary for more beneficial bacteria to proliferate and help digestion.

Do not Smoke

It's time to reconsider using smoking as a coping mechanism if you do so when your stress levels are rising.

The most prevalent disorders linked to smoking are heart and respiratory illnesses, but studies also reveal that the vice can harm your digestive system.

Smoking can raise your risk of peptic ulcers, GI conditions, and associated malignancies. If you smoke, think about creating a plan and talking to a healthcare professional or your doctor about how you can reduce or stop smoking.

Improving time Management Skills

Self-care is crucial for reducing stress. For many, this entails making the best use of their time management skills. Using self-reported questionnaires and scales, a study examined the connections between time management, anxiety, and academic motivation in 441 nursing school students. Poor time managers exhibited higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of motivation for their academic work than excellent time managers.

Your capacity for time management can be strengthened by −

  • Having an awareness of the deadline

  • Having forethought

  • Setting objectives

  • Keeping from procrastinating


Stress affects the body and also the digestion level of individuals as well. By utilizing proper stress management techniques, one can keep stress at bay and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Updated on: 03-Apr-2023


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