If you were to ask anyone who knows me really well, they would tell you that I don’t handle stress very well. I tend to turn into a wreck, no longer a human, but one giant ball of stress. It’s not pretty and it is definitely not fun. All this stress has wrecked havoc on my gut in the past..
I come from a long line of worriers, and I tend to internalize that worry and stress. Whenever I start to worry about something, my gut goes haywire on me. While I was in college, I used to have to perform solo pieces on my French Horn in front of a panel of teachers. I do NOT enjoy playing by myself in front of an audience, as it pretty much terrifies me. But every semester I would have to begrudgingly stand in front of 5 professional musicians and try not to throw up while playing my instrument. Obviously this situation caused me great amounts of stress, and the weeks leading up to my performance I would think of nothing other than having to play my solo. This stress would in turn mess with all things digestive. I wouldn’t be able to eat, yet somehow would have to run to the bathroom all the time dealing with diarrhea. It would get so bad that literally I would have to go to the bathroom 2 minutes before my performance or risk having an even more embarrassing accident than playing a few wrong notes. The surprising thing though? The minute I was done with my piece and walked out of the room I would feel infinitely better. I could eat, I wasn’t racing to the nearest toilet, and my stomach wasn’t constantly swirling like a tornado.
Stress manifests itself in different ways for different people. Not everyone may experience my intestinal fireworks whenever they encounter a difficult or worrisome situation, but there is a significant link between stress and your digestive system. There are actually a ton of nerve endings in your digestive system, and when your brain experiences a stressful situation it will release hormones that directly affect your digestion. It even starts as soon as you eat, with stress decreasing your saliva production and causing food to not be properly digested right from the moment you chew. Stress doesn’t mess around. Many of the ways you can see stress affect the digestive system is through indigestion, ulcers, and even heartburn. Not really all that fun.
So are our digestive systems at the mercy of stress and our brain? You don’t have to let it. There are things that you can do to eliminate or reduce your stress and that can help alleviate stressful situations. For all you professional worriers like me, these habits can take some time to incorporate. I still have a hard time dealing with stress (just ask my wonderfully patient husband) but I keep trying to practice and get better!
Talk it out. One of the worst things that you can do is internalize your stress and bottle it all up inside. That will just eat you up and spit you out. Having someone you can talk to about your stress and worry will help you get all that bad energy out into the open and off your chest. Also, now you have someone who can help you work through that stress and ease your worries. Even if you don’t have someone you can talk to, writing in a journal works as well. I always felt like I would be a burden to my friends and family if I bothered them with my troubles, but I have found that they are always willing to listen and help. Those that love you don’t want to see you suffer, so talk!
Find an activity that will get you away from your stress. Even if it is for a few minutes, do something that will take your mind away from your stress. When I would be practicing for my performance, sometimes I would just have to stop for a few minutes and walk around the music building or read the school newspaper just to give myself a break. If you are constantly dwelling in your stressful situation, you will eventually break. Take a walk, drink some tea, do yoga, play a video game, ANYTHING just to give your body and brain some relief.
Eat healthy foods. This is the toughest advice for me to follow, but probably some of the best. When stressed, I tend to barely eat. This is not good at all. Your body needs fuel to function and it really needs fuel whenever you are stressed so that it can deal with that stress. It may seem like common sense, but along with eating regularly, eat HEALTHY. You do not need to be eating 20 oreos, even though that may comfort you. Junk food will produce junk results and you don’t need that when you’re stressed. How many times have you been worried about something, and in order to try and feel better, you eat your favorite comfort food? How many times has that food made you feel better for the 10 minutes you are eating and then you feel awful after you are done? You don’t need the added stress of bad food, as junk food will allow your digestive system to function properly. At a time when you need your gut working as best as possible, don’t feed it garbage. Stick to foods like oranges and broccoli and other foods that have vitamins and minerals that will boost your body and alleviate your stress. Your gut will thank you!
Take a deep breath. Breathe deep and realize that this stress will not last forever. You can and will get through it and you will be stronger for having done so. Try not to dwell on the immediate stress but think to the future and the outcome. Think about how great you will feel once you have worked past this problem and come out on the other side!
Like I said before, I still struggle with dealing with stress properly. In fact, yesterday Adam and I started to pack for our upcoming move (long story short: we did not plan on moving, we were told that our lease was not going to be renewed and thus had to find a new place to live. Woooo….). I started to feel overwhelmed by everything that had to be done in a few short weeks and I started to shut down. Luckily, I (with a lot of help from Adam) was able to vocalize that stress and work through it. While I am still a little stressed about the whole situation (I seriously hate moving), I am not experiencing any of my usual symptoms. That alone is reason to be happy, because seriously who wants to have to pack and have the trots? Not me! When you start to feel stressed, take a step back, breathe deep, and know that you are tougher than any problem out there and can handle this!