What Is the Relationship between Stress and the Digestive System?

Debra Barnhart
Debra Barnhart
Some of the organs of the digestive system.
Some of the organs of the digestive system.

The link between physical and emotional stress and the digestive system has an instinctual and physiological basis. Under threat, the human body responds in a very specific manner, known as the fight or flight response. The digestive system’s natural reaction to stress is often exacerbated by unhealthy habits that can cause further digestive distress. To eliminate the negative connection between stress and the digestive system, it is important to learn proper eating habits and make healthy lifestyle choices.

A diagram of the digestive system.
A diagram of the digestive system.

When a person feels extremely threatened the body goes into a survival mode, which is called the fight or flight response. Senses become heightened, and the heart beats more rapidly. Blood vessels near the skin’s surface narrow to curtail blood loss. The flow of blood to the digestive tract is reduced, because digestion is not considered an essential process when the body is endangered. Once the body is in fight or flight mode, it wants to run rather than eat.

The abdomen houses the digestive organs.
The abdomen houses the digestive organs.

The nerve fibers in the digestive system are enormously delicate, and the connection between stress and digestive system disorders, such as gastritis, ulcers, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, has been established. Stress alone may not cause these disorders. There may be other factors involved like heredity, though stress can pave the way for attacks of irritable bowel syndrome or colitis as well as other assaults on the digestive system.

Some people have unhealthy lifestyle practices that contribute to stress.
Some people have unhealthy lifestyle practices that contribute to stress.

Considering how the body reacts to intense physical and emotional stress, it is easy to see how chronic stress and the digestive system can develop. Many people are unable to dial back their response to daily challenges at work or ignore other sources of aggravation that are part of modern life. Instinctual programming can be hard for some to overcome.

Chronic stress hampers the body's ability to fight fatigue and disease.
Chronic stress hampers the body's ability to fight fatigue and disease.

Stress can also induce people to indulge in bad habits that create more problems for the digestive system. Eating on the run may seem fairly innocuous, but it is not conducive to good digestion. Stress can also lead to over-eating, under-eating, increased alcohol consumption and smoking, all of which can have a negative impact on the digestive process. These habits may need to be modified or replaced with healthier habits.

To correct problems related to stress and the digestive system, people should also avoid multi-tasking while eating. Making sure to sit down while eating and chew food thoroughly is helpful. A healthy diet with an abundant amount of raw, natural food is probably best for good digestion. On the contrary, over-processed, sugary foods are harder for the body to digest.

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anon317625

What is not conducive to good digestion?

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    • Some of the organs of the digestive system.
      Some of the organs of the digestive system.
    • A diagram of the digestive system.
      A diagram of the digestive system.
    • The abdomen houses the digestive organs.
      The abdomen houses the digestive organs.
    • Some people have unhealthy lifestyle practices that contribute to stress.
      Some people have unhealthy lifestyle practices that contribute to stress.
    • Chronic stress hampers the body's ability to fight fatigue and disease.
      Chronic stress hampers the body's ability to fight fatigue and disease.