Source from Everyday Health, By Diana Rodriguez, Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Stress can cause stomachaches, diarrhea, and other digestive problems, but stress management can keep them under control.
If you get butterflies in your stomach when you have to give a speech, drive through white-knuckle traffic, or argue with your spouse, you’re not alone: Stress can exact a very real physical toll on your digestive system. Your gut is extremely sensitive to stress and your overall emotions. And conversely, the right stress management techniques can help soothe an upset stomach.
The Link Between Your Gut and Your Emotions
The physical reason why emotions and stress can lead to stomachaches and other digestive problems is because the gut is highly sensitive and full of nerves, just like the brain.
“There is definitely a connection between the brain and the gut,” says Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “The gut is called the little brain — it’s the largest area of nerves outside the brain.”
Upset Stomach: Even Little Stresses Affect the Little Brain
Stress and nerves often have very noticeable physical symptoms that focus around the digestive tract.
“Any time you’re in a stressful situation, a lot of people will get butterflies in their stomach or may get diarrhea,” says Dr. Marrero. “It gets better when they get out of that stressful situation.”
And it’s not just the big events that lead to digestive problems or an upset stomach — you may have persistent stomachaches, but not quite be able to figure out what’s causing them. That’s because even small, daily stressors can affect the gut, says Marrero. He notes that there are many theories behind this connection between the gut and the brain, and that many different pathways communicate between the two that can lead to an upset stomach and other digestive problems as a result of stress.
“Sometimes we can try to reset the connection between the brain and the gut using medications for depression,” says Marrero. But you don’t always need medication to manage stress and regulate your digestive health.
Upset Stomach: Getting a Handle on Stress
If you want to settle an upset stomach that’s caused by nerves, it’s important to keep stress in check. Even daily stresses like job worries and problems at home can lead to subtle digestive problems.
Identifying the cause of the stress, understanding the gut’s natural reaction to it, and keeping stress under control are the most important parts of managing stress-related stomachaches and other digestive problems.
To reduce stress and manage digestive problems on your own, try these stress management tips:
- Consider counseling to deal with what’s bothering you.
- Try cognitive therapy.
- Keep a journal of what’s stressing you, how you feel, and what you did to feel better.
- Don’t take on more than you can handle — say no when you need to.
- Prioritize your responsibilities.
- Put problems in perspective, and stay positive about the good things in your life.
Your body’s automatic response to stress and other emotions may be a digestive reaction, which just goes to show how closely related your physical and emotional health really are. But that doesn’t mean that your stomach has to suffer every time you get upset or nervous. Learn how to tame your stress and keep it under control to keep digestive problems caused by your emotions under control as well.