Health

Here’s Why Your Gut Health May Be Affecting Your Stress Levels (5 Things to Do Today)

Did you know this about your gut?!

By: Emma Lunsford

Stressed? We’ve all had our fair share of feeling ugh, especially this past year. And while a little bit of stress is actually healthy, most of us experience way more than just “a little bit.” From job pressure, money worries, and family obligations, most of us walk around with invisible 50lb backpacks of overwhelm. Ouch. Too much long-term strain has consequences, like anxiety, insomnia, and even tummy issues. That’s right. The empty pit in your stomach isn’t just your imagination. Your gut health and stress levels link together like PB&J. Here’s what you need to know!  

Gut Health & Stress…Just How Connected Are They?

Did you know that 70% of your immune system lives in your gut? 

Um, woah.

Our gut is one of the most undervalued body parts, as it’s largely responsible for absorbing nutrients, providing energy, balancing hormones, and supporting mental health. Even thousands of years ago, Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” And boy, science today shows he was right. 

Your gut brings its fabulous brilliance from bacteria, tiny microbes that work with your cells to keep your body in tip-top shape. 

Unfortunately, most of us have a bunch of daily habits that may damage the healthy bacteria balance in our gut, such as consuming too many processed foods, and of course, the star of the show:

Stress

Stress sends your entire body into fight/flight/freeze mode, which reduces blood flow to your stomach and instead directs it to your limbs & brain. For example, if you’re running away from a crocodile, your body is less concerned with digesting your chicken salad sandwich and more with safely escaping. 

Survival mode at its finest. 

The problem? When you never get to digest anything because you’re stressed out all the time. Chronic stress eats away at the good bacteria in your gut, putting that gut bacteria ratio in a bad imbalance, causing even more stress. Ironically, long-term strain also undermines the bacteria responsible for protecting your body from stress. 

No wonder you feel horrible; stress rears two heads!

To top it off, the gut-brain connection also plays a huge role in how you feel. Just as the brain sends signals to your gut, the gut sends signals to your brain. So if your tummy is off, studies show it could contribute to anxiety and depression. 

But don’t stress over stressing yet! There are a few things you can do to ease into calm and boost your digestive health at the same time.  

Double Whammy! 5 Ways to Support a Healthy Gut & Ease Stress At the Same Time

So now that we know gut health and stress complement each other, it’s crucial to focus on efficient self-care:

The type of self-care that works to soothe both your stomach and stress. Try out these five ideas!

#1 Reduce Stress (Duh)

Obvious much? Hear us out. 

Reducing your stress levels is one of the most effective ways to support your gut. When you’re able to stay in a relaxed state, your body can focus less on surviving and more on healing. Makes sense, right?

Here are great ways to stay calm, cool, & collected:

  • Sllooowwwww dooowwwwnnnnn. Throughout the day, focus less on what you’re doing and more on who you’re being. Are you relaxed? Stressed? Move in a slower, intentional way, and your body can catch on.
  • Use conscious breathing. Breathing is one of the most effective ways to get into a relaxed state. By slowing down your breath, your brain senses a switch in energy and feels safe enough to calm down. Stop, take a second, and focus on your breath whenever you can!
  • Say no. Lack of boundaries is a huge contributor to stress; we often put way too much on our plates! Instead, learn to say no when your schedule gets out of hand. Remember — the people upset about you having boundaries are often the ones benefiting from you having none!  

#2 Exercise

Studies show exercise can promote more good bacteria in your gut and reduce stress levels. 

The perfect two for one deal! 

The key to exercising consistently is to find activities you actually enjoy. A few ideas to get you started:

Keep in mind. Exercise is a balance. It’s totally possible to stress your body out from working out too much. So don’t overdo it! 

#3 Meditation

Meditation has also been shown to reduce stress levels. It’s perfect for easing into that relaxation response! The best part? You can do it anywhere, anytime: no equipment needed.

Take these sessions out for a spin, and see how you feel:

#4 Probiotic-Rich Foods

Probiotics are one of the secret ingredients to a healthy gut balance; taking a daily probiotic supplement can work wonders at replenishing your good bacteria! 

You can also increase your probiotic-rich food intake, like:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • Tempeh
  • Miso
  • Pickles

Since your gut health and stress are intertwined, this tip could also be a de-stressor! Woot!

#5 Amp Up Your Fiber

Here’s the thing. You need to feed your probiotics with fiber, also known as prebiotics, for them to survive. Thankfully, it’s super easy! Just make sure you’re getting at least 25 grams of fiber per day. You can do this through foods like beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, oats, quinoa, and sweet potatoes. 

Fiber is also great for getting your digestion moving, so start slow and build your way up to avoid digestive stress! 

Stressing Out Over Stress Is Counterproductive: Focus On the Positive!

The stress cycle doesn’t just happen to your body. It’s almost an instant reaction to stress your mind out over how much you’re already stressing. Unfortunately, this only prolongs the negative effects. Instead, whenever you catch yourself stressed to the max, ask yourself, “what positive intention does my stress have for me today?” Do I need to slow down? Take a nap?

Listen to your body! Your gut health and stress levels can improve!