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More Than a Gut Feeling: How Stress & Gut Health May Be Impacting Your Emotional Well-Being

Did you know stress affects your digestive system, which in turn affects your ability to create an essential hormone necessary for you to feel 'normal'?

Serotonin is a key hormone responsible for feelings of balance and wellness. It is produced via the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which our bodies do not create naturally. This means we must get it from the foods we eat.

What does this have to do with stress?

Well, when we are stressed, our bodies go into fight or flight, or 'survival' mode.

In this state, our systems optimize resources to effectively deal with whatever danger we are about to face. This means that energy is diverted away from non-essential systems and re-routed to ones that will help us survive. 

This optimization results in several interesting physiological changes:

  • The more energy-intensive (thinking) parts of our brain are inhibited, in favour of the more efficient, instinctual ones.

  • Our heart rate & blood pressure increase (ensuring maximum oxygen and nutrients reach our muscles).

  • Adrenaline and cortisol are released (to enhance our strength, speed, and reflexes).

  • Our digestive system is temporarily 'de-commissioned' (digesting food doesn't matter so much if you are dead).

The above responses are all normal and healthy. Usually, once the threat has passed, our parasympathetic nervous system will kick in and we will return to a normal, non-aroused state.

What becomes problematic, however, is if we stay in a stress state for prolonged periods.

Being in a prolonged stress state can significantly impact our ability to produce serotonin from the food we digest. This, in turn, can affect our emotional health and our sense of 'normalcy'.

It can also create brain fog, the inability to retain information, and even impact sleep and sex drive.

It's a pretty big deal.

So what do you do if you find yourself anxious and stressed, regularly? What strategies can you employ to support your body and mind to get out of this heightened state of alertness?

The key is to engage in activities that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, often referred to as the body's "rest and digest" mode. 

These can include:

𝟭. 𝗗𝗲𝗲𝗽 𝗯𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗲𝘅𝗲𝗿𝗰𝗶𝘀𝗲𝘀, 𝘀𝘂𝗰𝗵 𝗮𝘀 𝗱𝗶𝗮𝗽𝗵𝗿𝗮𝗴𝗺𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗰 𝗯𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝗿 𝘀𝗾𝘂𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗯𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗻𝗴.

We tend to shallow breathe or breathe quickly when we are in danger. Deep breathing, even if forced, is how we can signal to the body that it is safe to relax and counteract the stress response. 

𝟮. 𝗛𝘂𝗺𝗮𝗻 𝘁𝗼𝘂𝗰𝗵.

Touch from people we trust and care about can signal safety to our body, helping to reduce stress and promote relaxation.

𝟯. 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗹𝗲 𝗿𝗼𝗰𝗸𝗶𝗻𝗴.

Lay on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Wrap your arms under your legs and rock forward and backward gently. This motion helps to calm and deactivate your survival response. 

𝟰. 𝗦𝗽𝗲𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗶𝗺𝗲 𝗶𝗻 𝗻𝗮𝘁𝘂𝗿𝗲, 𝗮𝗻𝗱/𝗼𝗿 𝗽𝗿𝗮𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗰𝗲 𝗺𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗳𝘂𝗹𝗻𝗲𝘀𝘀, 𝗺𝗲𝗱𝗶𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻, 𝗼𝗿 𝗴𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗹𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝗴𝗮.

Engaging in these activities gently shifts our focus away from future worries or past thoughts, and brings us into the present moment. This shift can be calming for both mind and body.

𝟱. 𝗦𝘂𝗽𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗯𝗼𝗱𝘆 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝗮 𝗵𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘁𝗵𝘆 𝗱𝗶𝗲𝘁 𝗿𝗶𝗰𝗵 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗿𝘆𝗽𝘁𝗼𝗽𝗵𝗮𝗻-containing foods.

Food such as turkey, chicken, bananas, nuts, seeds, and tofu. These foods can help replenish serotonin levels and support overall emotional well-being.

Incorporating these practices into your daily routine can help minimize the effects of stress on your digestive system and support your body in producing the essential hormones necessary for you to feel your best. Still, these steps do not work in isolation. Removing yourself from environments that do not support your mental health, setting boundaries, and limiting exposure to experiences/people that trigger you are also important steps in creating and maintaining balanced stress levels. 

It's also essential to know that you aren't in this alone.

It is ok to seek professional help if you are struggling to manage stress or its effects on your health. Your well-being is worth prioritizing, and there is support available to help you navigate these challenges.


Coach Anna Lang

If you are struggling or would like support, please don't hesitate to reach out to me personally or join the Permission To Shift HUB community, where you can learn how to effectively work with your inner world alongside a supportive community, all for only $7/mo. <3

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