We’ve all experienced butterflies, gut feelings and nervous tummies; first-hand reminders of how our emotional and mental state affects our digestive systems.
I work as a hypnotherapist and have a particular interest in the area of anxiety and stress. I often see clients with stomach issues such as IBS who are sure that having a busy mind and a tense body is making their symptoms worse.
The gut is sometimes called the ‘second brain’ and for a good reason; where there are thought to be 100 million neurons in there (as many as are in the head of a cat, apparently http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18779997).
NICE guidelines for IBS https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg61/chapter/1-Recommendations#dietary-and-lifestyle-advice recommend relaxation, cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy to help to manage the stress and anxiety that can be both a cause and a symptom of gut issues (there’s nothing more stressful than having to dash to the loo in the middle of a meeting).
When we’re stressed or anxious, our bodies go into fight or flight mode, and blood flow and energy goes away from digestion and towards our limbs so that we can run away or fight a perceived danger. Sadly in modern life, many of us spend a lot of time in this ’emergency mode’, and our gut health can suffer as a result.
Here are my 4 top tips for managing your stress levels:
Rest is best
So often in life, we run around, pushing ourselves to be productive and ticking off items on our to-do lists – never giving ourselves a chance to rest and recharge. We don’t value relaxation or prioritise it as we should. But rest is productive too, and we need to remember that relaxation is just as important as working. Giving your mind, body and adrenals a break will improve your focus, energy levels, happiness and your gut health. Repeat after me ‘I need rest to be at my best’. Get a free relaxation MP3 at www.calmer-you.com/free
Name it to tame it
There is evidence to suggest that when we put our feelings into words, it calms us down. It works because attaching words to feelings, lowers the response of the amygdala (AKA the fight or flight response). Talking to a therapist, a friend or just writing in your journal all helps – just don’t keep it to yourself.
The benefits of getting enough sleep can’t be overstated. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep and not getting enough can make us feel as though we can’t cope. If you struggle to switch off before bed, read some light-hearted fiction for 20 mins or so before turning out the light.
It might sound obvious, but it’s worth saying again because so many of us are still way too hard on ourselves. You might think that beating yourself up helps to motivate you or ensure you learn from your mistakes. But this isn’t the case; no one responds well to bullying and studies have even found that self-compassion is much more motivating.