Have you ever wondered why you feel butterflies, knots or nausea in your stomach during a stressful event? In our increasingly fast-paced society, stress is becoming more and more prevalent, and we often experience tummy troubles as a result.
If you find that your stress is causing you to feel physically unwell, read on to learn more about this problem, its effects, and how it can be alleviated.
The link between the gut and the mind
Experts have discovered that the stomach and the mind are more closely linked than we first thought. Worry, stress, anxiety and nerves can all have a physical effect on the body, including the digestive system.
For example, those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have found that, although the primary causes of the symptoms are often food-related, stress has a huge effect on their day-to-day management of IBS symptoms.
What is stomach pain stress?
Your gut contains a huge number of nerves. When we feel stress, we enter a ‘fight or flight’ state, where stress hormones and chemicals are released, telling the digestive tract to slow down. These hormones can have a negative effect on our gut flora and gut antibodies. If there is a chemical imbalance in the gut, physical symptoms are more likely to follow.
Stomach pain can also be caused by different types of negative emotion aside from stress, including fear, anxiety and excitement. Different life events can be attributed to causing stress, including grief, chronic illness, money troubles, an upcoming event such as an exam, relationship problems or life changes. Sometimes events do not have to be overly significant to cause us stress – which can be why it sometimes takes us a while to address the cause of the problem.
However, stomach problems can also be a sign of issues such as IBS, Crohn’s disease or gastroenteritis, so if you are worried about your symptoms, always see a doctor.
Symptoms of stress-related stomach pain
If you exhibit any of the following symptoms, you should consider how you are feeling. Are you feeling overly stressed, worried or anxious?
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of appetite / increased appetite
Children may also exhibit these symptoms due to stress or anxiety. If your child is complaining of stomach pains, talk to them about how they are feeling, and if necessary, take them to see a doctor.
How to reduce stomach pain
If you find yourself suffering from stomach pain, you have several different options when it comes to remedies.
- Heat – Putting a hot water bottle on your tummy can help the muscles to relax, thereby reducing tummy pain
- Apple cider vinegar – this popular remedy is believed to help with digestive issues. Make sure to dilute it with water and drink through a straw to avoid the acid damaging your teeth
- Medication – Over-the-counter remedies can help alleviate the effects of stomach pain. Always read the label first.
- Herbal tea – calming teas may help your stomach to get back to normal. Try ginger, chamomile or peppermint.
How to reduce stress
Aside from managing the physical symptoms of stress, the only way to truly make a difference is to address the root of the problem – the mind. Whilst it’s true that stress is not a physical condition, there are ways of managing it and improving your physical health.
Experts have suggested that good ways to reduce stress are meditating, breathing exercises and calming exercise such as yoga. Try to take some relaxing walks outdoors as exercise, combined with fresh air and sunlight, are fantastic natural mood-boosters.
You should also consider your work life – are you staying late, or continually worrying about deadlines? Some people may find that their stomach pain or similar symptoms worsen while at work. If this sounds like you, take steps to address this work stress. Speak to someone at work and tell them how you are feeling. They should be able to point you in the right direction.
Some individuals also find that therapy or counselling can really help their stress, which subsequently will hopefully lead to fewer stomach problems.