STRESS & YOUR GUT

I’ve spent most of my life being ‘stressed’. Whether that’s being crippled with anxiety about something menial or overthinking everything to the nth degree, I’ve often found myself to default to the state of ‘stressed’. In my early twenties, I used to crave to be seen as a ‘chilled gal’ but as I’m fast approaching the ripe 3-0, I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m just a bit of a highly strung individual.

Whilst I’m not one to make assumptions, I think it’s pretty safe for me to say that we all know what stress is. Sure, everyone’s experience of stress is different and everyone’s perception of what ‘stress’ is will vary, but overall there is one thing we can all agree on: stress is real.

Let’s think about how stress can affect us. Mentally, it’s draining. But what about physically? When we’re nervous or anxious, we often describe a feeling of butterflies in our stomach. Similarly, when we’re feeling a bit edgy, we often find ourselves saying how we have a ‘dodgy tummy’. I even have a friend who’s an actress who always describes how she has ‘nervous farts’ before a show. Maybe I just associate with babes with bad bowels or maybe the gut-brain link is a lot stronger than we give it credit.

According to the NHS website, it’s ‘because anxiety and worry can upset the delicate balance of digestion.’ The APA also mentions that ‘stress especially affects people with chronic bowel disorders, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This may be due to the gut nerves being more sensitive, changes in gut microbiota, changes in how quickly food moves through the gut, and/or changes in gut immune responses.

So that’s great. Stress makes me shit myself. But what can we actually do about it? Well, as always, I’m not a doctor, not medically trained and often not even sure why I think I’m capable of advice but, here goes: my tips for understanding stress with IBD!

🌈 Stress Less
Okay, Einstein, a bit of a no-brainer. But in all seriousness, take a look at your life. If it’s anything like mine, you’re often over-worked, under-rested and emotionally over-invested. You might think ‘well this is just the way that it is’ but I can promise you that there are things you can do to ease up a little bit. There is nothing more important than your health, both physical and mental, so make some time for you. Some stress in life is unavoidable, and some stress can actually be good for you, but make sure you’re building in that balance. Practice that mindfulness. Say no. Learn to take time to rest.

🌈 Improve your gut microbiome
There’s a lot of research into the importance of keeping your gut microbiome balanced and healthy, and an easy way to do this is to eat the rainbow honey. If you’re suddenly feeling a bit defensive of the memory of last night’s beige dinner, then maybe it’s time to colourise your plate. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely demolished a vegan chippy on Friday evening (vegan battered sausage, chips and curry sauce if you’re asking – thank you Sutton & Sons) but it’s all about balance. If you really want to go the extra mile, you could look into taking probiotics and eating fermented foods. Yum.

🌈 Stay connected
Possibly an introverts worst nightmare, but socialising can often help alleviate stress – even if your ideal interaction is just getting a little bit more vocal in the group chat. Maintaining a healthy social support network has been a proven to help alleviate stress levels, and it makes sense really. Why else did that genius come up with the saying a problem shared is a problem halved? Identify your nearest and dearest and make sure that you stay connected – however possible, especially in these ‘testing’ times.

🌈 Sleep and stretch
Never underestimate how great getting in those precious Zzz’s can be. Those of us living with IBD will know the fatigue struggle is real, and some of us will have the additional pressures of joint pain etc. Finding the balance between getting in the rest that your body needs whilst also trying to help slowly getting your body moving can sometimes feel like balancing spaghetti on your toes – feels icky but not impossible. Even the lightest exercise can work miracles for your mind, which in turn, can help alleviate stress levels. And don’t overlook the importance of sleep – whether you function best on 5 hours a night or 9 hours a night, make sure you allow your body the rest it needs.

🌈 Be kind to yourself
Let’s face it, life is hard. Sometimes it can feel like things are constantly changing and there is always something new to keep up with. Remember to give yourself a break. Be kind. Allow yourself to make mistakes and encourage yourself to learn. Nobody is perfect and nobody has all their shit together, so let yourself do you, be you and enjoy all that you want to do. Even if that’s staying in bed today and listening to this banging playlist:

Sending you love, light and a less-stressed rest of your day 🌞

Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

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