We are living in times of increased stress, living through a pandemic has altered our lives more than we could have imagined and it happened overnight. None of us could have seen it coming. All of a sudden we live in a world where quarantines, lockdowns, facemasks, social distancing are the norm. It's become normal not to be around people, which for human beings is very abnormal. But can this increased stress have an effect on other things?
The answer is yes. Stress is interconnected with so many of the body's functions. One of those is the gut. Think about it. At times of stress and intense pressure we often get an upset stomach. Before a big speech or presentation, before an exam, or big project at work, we often head to the toilet. So where does this gut-brain connection come from?
Working with people with neurological and/or autoimmune disease the gut-brain connection plays a vital role. What many people aren't aware of is that we have a nerve that runs from our stomach all the way to our brain, it's called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve carries signals from the digestive system (as well as organs) to the brain. But even more than that this process is bi-directional, which means that it works both ways. So as well as carrying signals from the digestive system to the brain, it carries signals from the brain to the digestive system. So when stress effects the brain it also effects the gut.
People with IBS may be experiencing a spike in their symptoms at the moment. IBS is a complex syndrome with many different underlying causes for different people. Things like infection, bile, dysbiosis, food intolerances, infections and many other things can be causing the IBS. It is due to these different root causes why an individualised approach to treatment, such as functional medicine and nutritional therapy, can be most beneficial. It is thought that approximately 10% of the people in Western countries suffer with IBS of some sort, but only half of those approach a clinician, the other half just accept it as a part of life, but you don't have to live with these symptoms. There is still much research going on into causes and triggers of IBS in different people.
In treating IBS it is important to take a multifaceted approach, look for causes, look for imbalances, look for triggers (such as stress) and then work on a diet plan, supplement protocol (things like low vitamin D may be associated) and a lifestyle plan. Due to the bi-directional nature of the gut-brain axis, a programme that addresses the gut and the brain has been found to be most effective.
Reducing stress is always a good idea with IBS, so during these difficult times what can we do to help ourselves and our stress levels.
Here's my 8 favourite stress busting tips:
Take a walk in nature. Head out to the countryside and walk in fields or forests, get amongst the trees and the wildlife and relax.
If your mind wanders when doing these things concentrate on your surroundings, try to name the different varieties of trees around you, or think of 3 things you can see, 3 you can smell, 3 you can touch. You can do this wherever you are, anytime you feel stressed as a way of bringing you back to the present moment.
Breathe. Practice 3-4-5 breathing. Breathe in for 3, hold for 4 and out for 5.
Light a candle, choose a natural wax candle with essential oils in pick things like lavender, chamomile, rose.
Exercise, try something relaxing like yoga and aim fro 30mins a day for 5 days a week.
Have a pet, spend time with it, playing with a dog can release chemicals in the brain that promote a positive mood.
Say no. Don't try to please everyone, sometimes you need to do what is right for you. It is ok to put yourself first, if you don't appreciate yourself who else will.
Practice mindfulness. Download an app, I like Mind Detox by Fiona Lamb.