Pay attention to your gut-brain connection – it may contribute to your anxiety and digestion problems.

The gut-brain connection is no joke; it can link anxiety to stomach problems and vice versa. The colon is often called your second brain, more intuitive brain and comedian Stephen Colbert once called the gut “the pope of your torso.” I’d have to agree and then agree again. Anxiety, fear, depression, sadness are all words that we can connect with.  They each trigger an immediate emotion that we can feel and almost touch.  Now amplify that 100 times and that is what your gut feels. The “gut feeling” is direct and it knows!

Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.

Doing the kind of work that I do, I realise that my understanding of the colon is pretty deep. Truly, I get it. Ask a few of my clients and they will tell you I even give him a “good job” when Mr. Colon does what I (and you) need him to do, and that’s Let Go! I learn so much from each client that comes in to see me.  Sometimes I learn something new, which is awesome, and sometimes I just get confirmation of something I’ve studied or researched and now I get to experience it live.  I get to help you understand how close the relationship is between gut and brain, gut and arthritis, gut and anxiety, gut and ADHD, the list goes on.

My own gut and stress story

Eight years ago at exactly 2.30am for one week straight I woke every night and visited the loo for about 30 minutes. I was eating great food, was with people that I truly love being around, yet nothing would stay down.  My colon was really letting go.  Let’s see, what else was happening at this time in my life, oh yeah, I was getting married in two weeks, a destination wedding where I had people from all over the world flying in and getting all the last minute stuff in order. While I wasn’t necessarily feeling all that stressed, by gut was telling a different story. I was clearly trying to “hold it all together” but dear Mr. Colon needed to let that sh!t go – and he did!

Brain-Gut-Brain-Gut-Brain…

What starts as a stimulus in the brain influences your gut and your microbes, and these signals internally communicate back to the brain, reinforcing and sometimes even prolonging the emotional state.

Global Anxiety Today

Even before COVID, global stress and anxiety levels have been rising higher and higher each day. I can honestly say that when I ask our Exhale patients what their stress levels are on a scale of 1-5, VERY few say less than 4. Add COVID to this mix and we can actually feel the stress levels in the air. We are living in a state of uncertainty and that can make our immune system our gut health and our mental health spin out of control.

Your gut mirrors every emotion that arises in your brain

When you’re stressed, your heartbeat speeds and your neck and shoulder muscles tighten, and the reverse happens when you’re relaxed. The gut is, in fact, a theatre in which the drama of emotion plays out and mirrors how you feel.

Here’s the good news; The gut is the largest storage facility for serotonin in our body

90% of the body serotonin is stored in the gut. Serotonin is a signalling molecule that plays a crucial role within the gut-brain axis, and it plays a crucial role in functions such as sleep, appetite, pain sensitivity, mood, and overall well-being.

So, will it be the chicken or the egg?

Will you take care of your emotions first or your gut? Well kids, we have to do both.

When our mental health is struggling and we start getting those cravings for crap food like pizza, fast food, sugar, ice cream, wine, beer, etc. are your bad gut microbes trying to keep you feeling like crap. So, you have to dig deep to break away from those screaming bastards! Everything has to change and only YOU can do that. Good news is even the smallest steps help.

Here’s one, take a walk outside, no phone, no distractions, just you and your 4 legged best friend if you have one. Spending time in nature, just breathing fresh air has been proven time and time again to reduce stress levels.

Here’s another one – sit down and breath. Slow breathing connects us to our Vagus Nerve, which connects us to our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. Breath in for 4 counts out for 6 counts. Easy as that, you can even do it while sitting on the loo.

The research in this field of study will continue and we will learn more and more scientific facts.  But we do not have to wait for the papers to be published to know and feel and do what is right for us.

That gut feeling? It’s the truth that lies inside of you.

Be Well, Exhale, Nourish and Let Go.

If you would like to read a bit more and get your inner science geek out, here are a few links:

American Psychological Association, “That Gut Feeling”

 9 Fascinating Facts About the Vagus Nerve

The New Yorker, “The E-coli Made me do it”

The New Yorker,  “Germs are Us”

Discover Magazine Science for the Curious