How the holidays might be causing your cramps and constipation
If you want to fix your gut, start with your mental health
HEALTH Mental Health
Have you ever felt upset, anxious, or overwhelmed and suddenly became bloated, constipated, or experienced heart burn? It's no secret that mental health issues are linked to physical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and even autoimmune diseases, but not many people realize how directly your thoughts and feelings affect your digestion.
Nicole Beurkens, a licensed psychologist and nutrition specialist, told Shape that part of the reason for the strong connection between your mind and your stomach involves the gut-brain-axis and the collection of bacteria living in your GI tract, called microbiome. When your gut isn't healthy, your brain feels foggy, tired, and experiences headaches—a gluten intolerance is a good example of this—but it works the other way around as well. When you're stressed for an extended period of time, your levels of gut bacteria can become imbalanced, which snowballs and perpetuates even more stress and anxiety in the brain.
Stress can also cause inflammation, and it can even change the way your stomach churns food and digests nutrients. Those anxious, tense feelings tighten the stomach and cause IBS, cramping, diarrhea, and/or constipation, depending on where and for how long the muscle contractions occur.
But how do you know if your stomach issues are caused by stress or by eating an entire gingerbread house and washing it down with mulled wine? Keeping a journal is an easy way to spot an unhealthy trend. Jot down what you ate, any presence of digestive issues, and how you're feeling mentally to easily identify any patterns that emerge. The biggest telltale sign of stress-induced digestive issues is that they come and go depending on events like big meetings at work or going home for the holidays, which can be equally as stressful.
There are also probiotic foods that can both improve digestion and combat depression, and a myriad of other ways to improve your mental health including exercise, speaking to someone, and taking a nice long bath.
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