Anxiety causes a significant amount of physical stress, and physical stress can have a profound effect on your body. You may not realize how often your anxiety affects you in ways that are otherwise not linked to anxiety, but you have probably realized that when you have anxiety, it's not uncommon to have serious digestion issues.
Indigestion is an irritating and sometimes painful anxiety symptom. It's one that researchers struggle to understand, but many have ideas for why anxiety leads to such problems with digestion.
Indigestion = Anxiety?
How do you tell the difference between indigestion from food and indigestion from anxiety? It starts by eating healthier and working on your anxiety separately. Find out more by taking my anxiety test.
Causes of Anxiety Indigestion
First you need to make sure you even have anxiety indigestion. Take my anxiety test first. It will look at your symptoms to help you discover whether or not it's likely anxiety is leading to digestion problems.
While only a doctor can diagnose the cause of your indigestion, there is no denying that anxiety has an effect on the stomach. The question is what causes that effect. This has been studied since the early 1900's, and yet there is very limited data as to what causes some of these digestion issues. Some theorize that indigestion is caused by:
Changes in the Autonomic Nervous System
The best way to understand your body is to think of it like a perfectly run machine, where anything that disrupts the way it works causes the machine to work less efficiently. Anxiety activates the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system moves resources away from digestion in order to activate other processes in your brain, thus slowing digestion and making it less efficient.
While most people think of neurotransmitters as brain chemicals, the truth is that they - along with similar hormones - play a role in several areas of the body, including the gut. Serotonin levels, for example, are often related to anxiety, and changes in serotonin levels can also cause digestion issues like nausea.
Adrenaline is constantly released during anxiety, because adrenaline is caused by your fight or flight system. Adrenaline also turns sugar stores in your body (glycogen) into glucose, and changes in the sugar stores in your body can have several effects on your digestion, pumping nutrients in and out of your body in a way that may hurt your digestive health.
Changes in Intestinal Flow
Generally, food travels down the intestines at a very set pace. That pace has a purpose. Digestive enzymes, the liver, waste, etc., all work with digested food at the perfect pace for your body to collect the nutrients. Stress appears to alter the speed of food as it travels down your digestive tract, and an altered speed could result in digestive problems.
Anxiety and stress also appear to affect stomach acid. For most people this may not have much of an effect, but those that have a tendency to experience acid reflux may feel that their stomach acid symptoms get worse, and indigestion is one of those symptoms.
Anxiety and Poor Diet
One also cannot rule out the idea that a poor diet can lead to both indigestion and anxiety. Those that aren't eating well may be more prone to anxiety symptoms, and unfortunately that indigestion is going to be a natural part of eating unhealthy foods. Speaking to a doctor or nutritionist about your diet may be valuable.
General Anxiety Symptoms
Finally, anxiety itself may cause issues that seem like they're related to indigestion, but are actually other types of anxiety symptoms. For example, anxiety can cause hyperventilation, which may lead to gas and bloating. Also, those with indigestion may be more prone to experience anxiety over their symptoms - especially if they have health anxiety, causing them to worry that their indigestion is "something more."
Strategies to Reduce Indigestion From Anxiety
Fighting indigestion is difficult, because your body is controlling the way that you are processing foods. Your anxiety can be reduced, but as long as you experience anxiety you're going to find that your indigestion continues.
The best place to start is by simply changing your diet to be healthier. This is important for your anxiety anyway, and a good tool for making sure that you're combatting your indigestion as best you can. Make sure that you have ruled out any food causes by switching to a diet that is good for digestion - one with lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
You can also make sure that you're not sitting too much immediately after dinner. How you sit or law down can affect digestion. Since those with anxiety are more prone to laying down and doing nothing (because stress drains their energy) it may be in your best interests to address that issue by walking around after eating or making sure to stand and let the food settle.
The Only True Cure
Of course, the most important factor is going to be how you deal with your anxiety. Only by curing your anxiety can you expect to stop the indigestion caused by these issues.
I've worked with hundreds of people suffering from daily indigestion, helping them all stop the indigestion from anxiety forever. But you have to take my free 7 minute anxiety test to start. It's the only way to effectively reduce the amount of anxiety you experienced based only on your symptoms answers.
Miller, Raymond J., Olaf Bergeim, and Philip B. Hawk. The influence of anxiety on gastric digestion. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine. Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (New York, NY). Vol. 17. No. 5. Royal Society of Medicine, 1920.
Means-Christensen, Adrienne J., et al. Relationships among pain, anxiety, and depression in primary care. Depression and anxiety 25.7 (2008): 593-600.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.