Stress doesn’t just mean mental stress. Despite us humans being intelligent creatures, our bodies react to all forms of stress in the same way. Stressors can be physical (high intensity exercise, injury, illness, lack of sleep) or mental (perceived or actual).
In response to stress, your body produces the hormone cortisol – when this happens, you are in you fight, flight or freeze mode (or sympathetic nervous system).
Think of cortisol like an air traffic controller, it effectively diverts, slows or stops metaphorical planes and affects how the airport is running.
Of relevance to your gut, cortisol:
- diverts blood away from the gut to your muscles (to fight or run from your stressor)⠀
- slows the production of saliva, meaning the enzymes that break down food are reduced (impairing digestion)⠀
- decreases prostaglandins, which protect your stomach from acid (some experience a more sensitive tummy) ⠀
- slows digestion or causes sudden evacuation – hello diarrhoea, which might mean you aren’t absorbing nutrients as well⠀
- down-regulates your immune system (70% is found in your gut)⠀
- can cause the stomach and oesophagus to spasm
All of this is fine in the short term, but where stress is prolonged and food isn’t digested properly, it can really play havoc on the delicate ecosystem found in your gut.
To get out of fight, flight or freeze mode, you need to work on activating rest and digest mode (parasympathetic nervous system) – do what helps you relax, whether its yoga, having a dance or chatting to a friend.