Are your emotions having a negative effect on your gut?

IBS can have very unpleasant symptoms.
IBS can have very unpleasant symptoms.

If you've ever wondered why emotional distress causes stomach cramps or a mad dash to the bathroom, know that there's a direct line of communication that runs from your brain to your digestive tract.

It's called the enteric nervous system, and it can have a powerful effect.

For instance, when you feel nervous or threatened, digestion can slow or stop so that your body can focus on functions with higher priority – and that might result in cramps or diarrhoea. This is a hallmark of the condition called irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

Absence of good bacteria

The brain-gut connection works in both directions. For example, having a digestive condition can make you anxious or cause emotional distress. Plus, that anxiety can then worsen your digestive symptoms.

Researchers recently found a connection between depression and the absence of certain good gut bacteria – they can't yet say which comes first, but it's clear that there's some type of relationship.

If your gut reacts negatively to emotions and it's affecting your life, talk to your doctor. Find out if you have a digestive issue that's causing physical as well as emotional stress, such as IBS, and take steps to treat it. These may involve changes to your diet and other lifestyle habits.

Know that the answer doesn't always have to include drug therapy. To master anxiety regardless of its source, you can tap into relaxation techniques or psychological therapies, from progressive muscle relaxation, relaxation therapy, visualisation and soothing music to cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy or even gut-directed relaxation training, a technique that pairs relaxation with thinking positive thoughts centred on your gut.

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Yes
32% - 9465 votes
No
68% - 20205 votes
Vote