Gut Health, Stress and a Fear of Letting Go

My focus on gut health continues! We’ve covered how to know your gut needs some love, the connection between gut health and acne, and now we’re moving on to gut health and stress…

Could this month get any more interesting?! 

(this would be where my kids start rolling their eyes…)

At this point, I’m sure it’s no big shocker, but in case anyone is missing the pattern I’m working with here…gut health and stress are closely linked to each other. The more stressed you are, the greater the likelihood that your gut is suffering and because everything is so connected inside, many other systems in the body as well. We all know too much stress isn’t good for us, but I was surprised to learn about this connection and then fascinated. I figured there might be a few others who could benefit from it.

We all have stress – that’s life – and our bodies are equipped to deal with that. It’s when that stress is constant and becomes chronic that it’s not normal and not healthy. I’m particularly concerned with chronic stress because of how easily it can lead to burnout and how those of us who are chronically stressed often ignore it until something major happens. You don’t have to be the CEO of a company to experience it…everyday people experience burnout all the time and it has a lot to do with how they manage the burden.  

I heard a great analagy the other day, using a bathtub to represent your body and the water running from the tap as your stress. Some types of stress comes and goes on any given day; we deal with it and it’s over and gone – like turning on the tap to fill the tub and then pulling the plug to drain it. But there are other types of stress we can’t necessarily deal and be done with easily, or we don’t deal with adequately. This type of stress can be likened to pulling the plug to empty the water from the tub, but leaving the tap running at the same time…that tub is never going to be empty. If we don’t manage this kind of stress properly, it keeps building up in our system and it becomes very difficult for us to ever fully empty it out. 

So what do chronic stress and/or burnout have to do with your gut? I’m so glad you asked! (I’m really having fun with this!)

As far as your gut goes, to make it simple – chronic stress causes inflammation and inflammation compromises your gut (and pretty much everything else). Your digestive system is super sensitive to emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, and sadness. Even excitement can generate reactions in your gut. These emotions can either cause distress in your gut, OR, be caused by distress in your gut…the connection goes both ways. When we’re stressed, the body goes into fight or flight mode and tells your adrenals to release cortisol. As you’d expect, too much stress means too much cortisol. This spells trouble for the gastrointestional system because cortisol makes the digestive system overly acidic. An acidic state for extended periods is not good for the body as it allows bad bacteria in the gut to thrive. This causes an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the digestive system. I feel like I’m starting to overstate the obvious here (or that you’re starting to get tired of hearing it), but this imbalance can (and usually does) lead to more serious issues – depression, anxiety, autoimmune, heart disease, cancer…the list goes on and on. It really doesn’t matter what it could develop into…WE DON”T WANT IT!

As with all of these gut health posts, I have good news! You can prevent this nasty stuff…and if you’re skeptical about being able to prevent it, at least, please believe that it’s possible to make it better…becuase it is. If you can learn to manage your stress (and not just put it off for an hour or a couple of days), you’ll be doing so much good for your body! 

There are an endless number of things we can do to help alleviate stress levels – massages, walks outside, a nice hot bath, a weekend away from reality. They’re all ways to allow your body to go from fight or flight mode, to rest and relax mode. We want to be in rest and relax as often as possible because this is the ONLY time your body can work on healing itself. The problem I often see (and I drove myself into a state of chronic stress, and quite likely an autoimmune disease, doing this) is that chronically stressed people will usually not take or make the time they need to help their body heal. They feel they just don’t have time to do what’s necessary to start de-stressing, they feel like it’s an exercise in futility because their stress isn’t going to disappear after just one Reiki session, or (and this was me), they feel that if they start taking steps to help relieve their overload, it’s going to feel so freaking good that they’re not going to want to stop….this would be the fear of letting go part. 

So besides making sure your diet is full of whole foods and plenty of water (you guys know I’m never going to stop hounding you about staying properly hydrated!), booking a massage, taking an hour to go for a walk just because (and not because you need to get that workout in because you can’t break that exercise schedule), there are other things that will 100% help you manage the stress in your life:

  • Stop pushing every limit – be it work, or exercise, or how much you can get done every weekend. Just becuase you can do it all, doesn’t mean you have to and doesn’t mean you should. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help or support – and that’s true for the CEO of a company, or the stay at home mom. We all can use some help and we can’t be sure we’ll get it if we don’t ask for it.
  • Set boundaries – this has to happen at work, at home and with your friends. You can’t do it all and trying to be superwoman or superman is only going to end up in your health declining to the point that you won’t be able to do any of it. Remember that No. is a complete sentence…you can say it without apology or explaination…they’ll get over it.
  • LISTEN TO YOUR BODY – this is super important. Most of us suck at this…we ignore symptoms in our body and just keep going, or we take something to treat the symptoms, but they keep coming back. If you’re noticing things that are not right in your body, particularly issues with your digestive system like gas, bloating, poor digestion, constipation, diarrhea…it’s time to pay attention to that flag, figure out what is causing them (I can help you with that!) and work on correcting it. If you ignore these things and keep pushing on to be that person because everyone expects you to be, you will get sick, And you can’t be anything to anyone when you’re sick. 

I sincerely hope anyone reading this who is pushing their limits when it comes to stress pays attention to what I’ve said and consciously sits down to work on an action plan to start managing their stress. It’s the one sure way to make sure you can still be the person you want to be. Dealing with it doesn’t mean letting it all go – it just means finding a way to manage it so it’s possible to keep going without compromising your health any further. 

It’s about keeping it all InBalanSe!

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