5 Stress Management Tips for Gut Healing: learn why stress management is incredibly important for gut health and how you can take steps to overcome chronic stress and get your digestion back on track!
In case you missed the first two parts of this series, you can grab them here and here. Part 1 was all about my anti-inflammatory diet for gut healing and Part 2 outlined the supplements that have really helped heal my digestive issues.
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It took me a solid 6 or so years to finally get to the root causes of my chronic constipation, bloating, and upset stomach. This was something that began when I made a lifestyle change for the better, so you’d think it would have been the other way around! By eating an anti-inflammatory diet rich in whole foods and nutrients and supplementing with things like digestive enzymes, bone broth, probiotics, and prebiotics, I was still only about halfway to where I wanted to be. Despite doing “all the right things,” I was still battling constipation, bloating, and GI distress.
I found a love for cooking through it all. Changing my diet certainly helped me developed new, exciting recipes and they definitely improved my health! Definitely fell in love with sheet pan dinners, easy satisfying meals like this Shawarma Chicken (my fave!), anything with kale, all the veggies, and still found a way to make dessert be healthy (basically all of these recipes).
But with a new way of eating and new supplements in my cupboard, I was still only having a bowel movement about 2-3 days per week. Far better than it used to be (which was maybe ONCE a week), but I still wasn’t feeling my best.
It wasn’t until I addressed all the underlying mental issues that my constipation finally resolved.
Anxiety looks different for everyone. For some, it means panic attacks and not wanting to leave the house. For others, social situations are a trigger. And for those of us who are Type A with perfectionist tendencies, the anxiety can feel like a baseline way of living. Like constant background static. Like you don’t really know it’s there until someone points it out or you have a nervous breakdown.
That last one was totally me up until about a year ago.
I think the anxiety began in college – the stress of school, the Honors program, difficulty making and keeping good friends, a part-time job I hated but had to do for experience. And then PA school was just… awful. I was constantly stressed. And not just the mental and physical stress of school, either. It was stress in the form of disordered eating, social isolation (due to the disordered eating) and a horrible body image. I thought that by dieting 24/7 and exercising 7 days a week I was being “healthy” but my mental health was in the toilet (<– lame pun).
Even after PA school, when I landed a great full-time job and married the man of my dreams, I was still experiencing that baseline anxiety. I started this blog that I love so dearly and picked up the hobby of food photography. Though I really enjoy those things, I put a lot of pressure on myself to produce quality content and photos I’m really happy with. Uh, more stress.
I think it was actually my husband that suggested I stop doing all the things to help alleviate my constipation – to actually take time for myself. Pfffff, yeah right, like I had time for that! Deep down, I knew he was right. So I started reading and learning.
The gut and the brain both share neurotransmitters; for example, 90% of your brain’s serotonin (the neurotransmitter responsible for a good mood) is actually produced in the gut. So if your gut is unhealthy, then your brain is unhealthy, too. And vice versa! You don’t always have to feel stressed out for your body to be under stress either. If you have a gluten intolerance and continue to eat gluten, that’s just giving your body more stress to deal with.
It’s for this reason that I’m sharing these 5 stress management tips for gut healing. Managing our underlying stress is soooo incredibly important!
I used to wake up and rush to get to the gym, bust through a hard workout, run home, barely have time to shower (let alone dry my hair…) and be off to work. I’d then get straight to work, work through my lunch break, rush to get home and make dinner, and spend the rest of my night working on the blog. It was non stop.
Here’s what my new schedule looks like and how I’ve learned to battle the stress and anxiety that were really the cause (I believe) of my gut issues in the first place. (Oh, and I actually got my bowels on a regimen they can depend on!)
Here’s what it looks like:
- It all starts in the morning. I wake up 15-20 minutes earlier than I ever used to so that my bowels have time to wake up, too. I head straight down to the kitchen and fill a glass with hot water, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and the juice from half a lemon. This lights up my digestion and wakes up my belly plus helps my liver detox.
- I started meditating daily. I’ll admit – at first, I thought meditation was hokey. But I told myself I was going to commit to it for at least a couple weeks. And what a difference it has made! Meditating forces you to be in the Now – the present – rather than focusing on the past or the future. Anxiety is basically worrying over things that haven’t happened yet (the future), and since nobody can predict the future, why worry? Meditating and practicing mindfulness will help you experience what it’s like to live in the present moment, every moment. I know it’s easier said than done, but even just 5-10 minutes a day can make a huge impact.
- I started a new journal. Journaling is something I’ve done on and off through the years, but this time, I got serious with it. For me, writing is a way to express what’s going on with me internally. It helps me sort through the chaos. Often, I don’t even know what I’m feeling, but when I started writing about it, everything falls into place.
- I learned to say, “No”. Meaning I learned to stop over-committing, especially to things that really weren’t serving me. I started listening to my body and sleeping in instead of forcing a workout; I didn’t go out with friends when I wasn’t feeling particularly extroverted; I stopped saying “yes” to projects that weren’t worth my time or effort or would require me to work on weekends or miss time with family. I tend to be an overachiever, so this one has been HARD for me.
- I learned to listen to my body. Just like #4, this one has been incredibly difficult over the years. I’ve dieted, reverse dieted, dieted again, tracked calories, counted macronutrients, and exercised 7 days a week. But letting go of the eating disorder was one of the most profound mental shifts I could’ve ever made. When I finally gave up dieting (4 months before my wedding, mind you!), the stress started to dissolve. I felt lighter – like someone unchained my wrists. It’s been two years since I began Intuitive Eating (AKA eating like a normal person making healthful choices) and I’m still working on it. In fact, much of 2019 has been a relapse. I began counting carbs in my head again, trying to add up calories, and sometimes purposely not eating so I can “save more” for later at night. I don’t even like admitting that, but it’s the truth. Obsessing over food and body image is a horrendous amount of added stress you don’t need. Let go of the diet and learn to listen to your body and your intuition.
Now, I’m absolutely far from perfect. There are definitely days that I wake up and feel super rushed to get to the gym and get my workout done so I can make it to work on time. I catch myself thinking WAY into the future, which makes my belly tighten up and throws my body into fight-or-flight mode.
But let me just say that once I started eating an anti-inflammatory diet, supplementing my diet with appropriate nutrients, and implementing these 5 stress management tips for gut healing, my bowel habits have been far better than ever (okay, not “ever” because they were pretty darn good in high school but I didn’t really know what a vegetable was back then…).
Stress management isn’t something that should be taken lightly. I hope you can use these 5 stress management tips for gut healing and apply them to your own healthy journey!