How to control persistent bloating with stress reductionTuesday, 23 July 2019 | Fiona
Do you have days when your belly starts out flat and ends up looking 6 months pregnant? You're not alone.
Bloating, usually accompanied by bowel irritability, is one of the most common digestive complaints amongst both men and women. Many factors can contribute to these symptoms, but a ‘strung out’ nervous system and chronic bacterial overgrowth are frequent underlying causes of digestive bloating and dysfunction.
Anxiety and stress
A stressed nervous system is not geared for proper digestive function. Normal digestive processes are inhibited when the sympathetic nervous system is active (commonly referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response and often dominant in today’s hectic, demanding world). This, in turn, means food is not processed or eliminated efficiently, and pathogenic bacteria can multiply, leading to ongoing digestive disturbance.
Stress management techniques like regular exercise (even just a daily stroll at lunchtime will be of benefit), meditation (again, just start with 10 minutes a day to keep it simple) and breathing techniques can help restore calm to the nervous and digestive systems. Combine this with a 'de-stressing' (rather than distressing) approach to mealtimes, and you will start to notice improvements.
3 tips to help de-stress your digestion
- Take time to relax while preparing food and when eating, taking deep regular breaths into the belly (do this anytime you feel stressed or uptight, you'll feel an immediate benefit). This signals to your nervous system that it can switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’ and allows a healthy digestive function to occur.
- Eat slowly and chew food well. Chewing is the first part of the digestive process and food that is well chewed and eaten at a leisurely pace means less strain on your digestive system. An easy way to eat more slowly is simply to put down your utensils (or your food if using hands) between bites.
- Don’t overeat. An overloaded digestive system won’t be able to process food efficiently and quickly causes bloating and digestive discomfort (flashback to Christmas dinner anyone?)
- Spend time in nature. Studies show that seeing the ocean has an instant calming effect on people, so get outside and go for a walk. If you can’t get to the see go out to a forest, farm, lake or river.
Bowel flora imbalance
The beneficial gut bacteria residing in all of us are incredibly important for overall health, and they help prevent overgrowth of undesirable microflora in the digestive tract.
Antibiotics, alcohol, poor diet, and stress can disrupt this balance leading to familiar symptoms of bloating, bowel irregularity (constipation, diarrhoea or both) and digestive dysfunction. Restoring and maintaining balanced bowel flora is an essential factor when resolving digestive issues. Some basic steps to start with are:
- Eat whole natural foods - reduce or eliminate refined foods, sugar and alcohol
- Add fermented foods to your daily diet such as sauerkraut, kefir, yoghurt to provide natural probiotics (good bacteria)
- Eat plenty of plant foods which act as prebiotics to feed the good gut bacteria
Remember - the digestive and nervous systems are intimately entwined, so helping one will benefit the other.