Scientists have confirmed that the mind and the gut have a strong connection. Both are affected by the same hormones and neurotransmitters, and both are extremely sensitive to stress and changes in those chemical patterns.
That's why, when you have anxiety, stomach problems are incredibly common. This article explores some of the most common stomach problems from anxiety and methods you can use to stop them in the future.
Types of Stomach Problems From Anxiety
What's interesting about anxiety stomach problems is that they may occur at different times for different people. Some people get stomach problems only during severe anxiety attacks. Others get these problems all throughout the day but know that they suffer from intense anxiety.
The following represent the most common types of "stomach problems" from anxiety. Remember, people often use the word stomach to also include bowels, colloquially.
Indigestion is incredibly common for those that suffer from persistent anxiety. The exact mechanism that causes indigestion is not quite clear, but it is likely related to some or all of the following:
- Neurotransmitters and Hormones The gut/digestion is affected by the same hormones and neurotransmitters as anxiety. So it stands to reason that when someone is suffering from anxiety, their hormones and neurotransmitters do not have the right balance, and thus the stomach would be affected as well.
- Stomach Acid - Anxiety may also affect stomach acid. Those with acid reflux tend to be more prone to severe acid reflux symptoms when they have anxiety. This indicative of the idea that stomach acids must increase during times of stress, and when stomach acids increase the chance of poor digestion increases with them.
Some also theorize that when the brain is attempting to manage anxiety, it uses so much strength that it shuts down other areas that are otherwise important for proper digestion while increasing the amount of resource spent in others. In other words, some parts of the digestion process may be shut down or lessened, while other parts may speed up unintentionally as a result of brain activation.
Indigestion doesn't require food in the stomach either. Stomach acids themselves and the way your body processes food down the digestive tract (including the intestine) may be affected by anxiety.
Gas and Bloating
While it's related to indigestion, it is technically a separate issue. Gas and bloating are also very common in those with anxiety. In some cases this is due to the way stress affects nutrient processing. But in other cases it may be due to things like air swallowing - a very common symptom for those with anxiety attacks and those that hyperventilate.
Air swallowing and hyperventilation cause air to build up within the stomach and chest. This increases the risk of flatulence and belching and can cause significant pains and discomfort in those that suffer from it regularly.
Stomach problems may also be a secondary symptom of sleep deprivation, which is also common in anxiety. Sleep deprivation can drastically alter the way the body processes food and nutrients, and since those with anxiety often have trouble sleeping, the result is significantly altered digestion and stomach problems.
Hyperventilation itself can also cause both stomach problems and perceived stomach problems. Hyperventilation can lead to nausea, air swallowing (as mentioned earlier), and significant stomach pressure that may also cause stomach-related symptoms.
Hyperventilation is also more common in those with panic attacks, and panic attacks cause another problem known as "hypersensitivity" which is a mental condition that makes it hard to ignore unpleasant sensations in the body. So even if the stomach problems themselves are fairly weak, those that are hypersensitive are going to have a hard time ignoring those stomach problems causing them to feel more severe than they otherwise may be.
These are just a few of the potential reasons that anxiety causes stomach problems. Anxiety and stress have a profound effect on the mind and body, and in some cases you may be contributing to stomach problems by the way you breathe, the way you eat, and even the way you sit when you have stress. There are countless different ways that anxiety can create these stomach issues.
What to Do When You Have Stomach Problems From Anxiety
While the best way for you to stop your stomach problems is to cure your anxiety, there are some strategies that you can try to implement that may reduce some of the symptoms. These include:
- Breathing Exercises There are relaxation exercises that focus on the idea of breathing more efficiently. When your stomach problems are caused by hyperventilation or air swallowing, slow and controlled breathing can be not only calming but also reduce the likelihood of further air swallowing symptoms.
- Healthier Diet Even though anxiety is going to create some stomach problems no matter what you eat, the reality is that foods that are hard to digest are always going to put some strain and stress on your stomach. When combined with anxiety, they'll be more likely to get much worse. Healthier eating can be a much more effective way to ensure that you aren't suffering from as many stomach problems.
- Exercise Exercise can temporarily create more stomach problems because exercise increases stomach acid. But eventually, exercise should help you control your anxiety better, and possibly improve your hormonal balance. Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health, providing far more benefits than simply muscle mass and a healthy heart.
You can also consider over-the-counter medications for stomach discomfort. Most are safe for the occasional use, and even though the stomach problems are caused by anxiety, they should still be effective at clearing those stomach issues up.
See a Doctor for Severe Stomach Problems and Commit to Your Anxiety
If your stomach problems have become a serious issue, it's safe to contact a doctor. There are some harmless (or less harmful) issues that can lead to persistent stomach problems, and medical intervention can be valuable.
But you also need to commit to curing your anxiety. It's the only way to guarantee anxiety stomach problems go away forever.