Believe it or not, your mental health has a direct impact on your gut health. Researchers have recently been exploring what’s called the “Gut-Brain Connection” in which the vagus nerve of the brain communicates directly with the incredibly intricate nervous system of the gut and vice versa. When the delicate connection is disrupted, unpleasant symptoms may occur.1 Additionally, the gut-brain relationship is thought to be circular in that mental conditions, such as stress or anxiety, lead to unwanted gut symptoms. At the same time, the unwanted gut symptoms can cause stress, anxiety, and even depression creating an unwanted biological cycle.2
A solution? Find a way to break the cycle!
One way to break this cycle is to practice stress management. The best way to manage stress is unique to the individual, and I encourage you to explore different practices to find your favorite. This way, it will be much easier to make a habit out of your stress and IBS management! To help you begin your IBS stress management journey, here are 5 ways to help manage stress:
Okay, I’m just going to get this one out of the way because I figure you’ve heard over and over again that exercise reduces stress. And it’s true. It’s also true that exercise can help aid in digestion. Taking half an hour out of your day to exercise has been proven to help your mood and regulate your bowel contractions.2
I would like to make it clear:
You do not have to become a weightlifter.
You do not have to become a runner.
But, you do have to move around a bit.
Lifting weights and running are both perfectly fine ways to exercise for stress management, but these can often seem like daunting tasks when you’re battling IBS symptoms. Lower impact exercises such as walking or swimming are equally as great for managing stress and may be more comfortable for those with more severe IBS symptoms. Similarly, mind-body exercises such as yoga, tai chi, and Pilates have relaxing effects without the cardiovascular demand that an activity like running would have.
Meditation can be a quick, easy way to reduce stress. It has been used in cultures all over the world for centuries as a form of deep relaxation. Even five minutes of meditation can trigger a relaxation response. 2,3
A common meditation technique is called “4-7-8” where breathing is executed in the following pattern:
· Exhale completely
· Silently breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds
· Hold your breath for 7 seconds
· Exhale freely through your mouth for 8 seconds
· Repeat as needed
3. Massage Therapy and Essential Oils
Massage is a therapeutic technique that increases blood flow, relaxes the muscles, and promotes relaxation. The combined mind and body relaxation is thought to relieve abdominal pain.3 Essential oils are commonly used in massage therapy but can also be used on their own. Many choose to diffuse the oil into the air either by applying it to a cloth or using a steam diffuser. Some choose to ingest it by mixing it with a beverage or adding it to foods. Common oils used for relaxation include:4
Valerian: promotes sleep and calms nerves
Lavender: calms anxiety
Holy Basil: reduces stress-related symptoms
Rose: lowers muscle pain (when applied to the skin) and anxiety
If you are in the Bourbonnais area, I offer Massage Therapy services. You can book a session with me AT THIS LINK.
4. Consider Talk Therapy
Talking with a therapist can teach you how to get out of the mind-body cycle of IBS. There are several different kinds of therapy that can be used. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common form of talk therapy. Here, a practitioner helps to identify patterns in behavior and discusses ways to break identified patterns. Similarly, psychodynamic therapy is another kind of talk therapy in which a therapist focuses on how your emotions are affecting your body. Relaxation training is commonly associated with psychodynamic therapy which can be beneficial to those who struggle to relax on their own. Lastly, hypnotherapy can be used to help put your body into an extremely relaxed state. It is thought people are more open to positive suggestions when in a hypnotic state which can help influence change in one’s behavior when “awake.”2
For a list of providers in your area, click HERE to be taken to the Psychology Today website which lists 100s of qualified therapists. You can filter through your preferences (i.e., male vs. female therapists, Christian-based, LGBTQ experienced, etc.).
5. Simply Do Something You Enjoy
Debatedly, the best thing someone can do to reduce stress is to do something you enjoy. Play the piano, ride your bike, help a neighbor, sip a cup of warm coffee, call your grandma, whatever! Doing something that you enjoy releases endorphins throughout your body which combat stress and anxiety. Research has shown that helping someone (specifically, someone that does not live with you) not only reduces current stress, but it also creates stress resiliency which helps one better manage future stressful events.5
What do you most enjoy doing? What bring you the most joy? Leave your answer in the comments!
1. Jones MP, Tack J, Van Oudenhove L, et al. Mood and Anxiety Disorders Precede Development of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in Patients but Not in the Population. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017;15(7):1014-20 e4.
2. WebMD. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) Guide. 2021. https://www.webmd.com/ibs/guide/stress-anxiety-ibs.
3. NYU Langone Health. Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Adults. 2021. https://nyulangone.org/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-in-adults/treatments/stress-reduction-for-irritable-bowel-syndrome-in-adults.
4. McDermott A. The 18 Best Essential Oils for Anxiety. Healthline. 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/essential-oils-for-anxiety.
5. Radcliffe, S. (2013). Stressed Out? Try Helping Out. Greater Good Magazine. University of California, Berkeley. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/stressed_out_try_helping_out.