Whether you are going into work or working from home, the COVID-19 pandemic has probably changed the way you work. Fear and anxiety about this new virus and other strong emotions can be overwhelming, and workplace stress can lead to burnout. How you cope with these emotions and stress can affect your well-being, the well-being of the people you care about, your workplace, and your community. During this pandemic, it is critical that you recognize what stress looks like.
Stress can cause a range of gastrointestinal problems including cramping, bloating, inflammation, and a loss of appetite.
Our brain and gut are more in sync than you may realize. For instance, the very thought of food can cause the stomach to produce digestive juices or the thought of giving a big presentation may cause constipation or uncontrollable bowels. The brain and gut are in constant communication. This direct relationship causes our gastrointestinal system to be sensitive to emotions and reactions such as stress.
When we are stressed, our brain sends signals for chemicals such as adrenaline, serotonin (a hormone that affects mood and is found in the digestive system) as well as the stress hormone cortisol to be released. These hormones can cause adverse reactions.
Stress negatively affects our digestive system in many ways. It can cause a decrease in blood and oxygen flow to the stomach, cramping, an imbalance in gut bacteria and inflammation. These symptoms can further develop into gastro intestinal (GI) disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD), peptic ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
There are several things you can do to reduce stress and improve gut health. Practicing stress-management techniques such as:
· Exercising regularly
· Avoiding stressors
· Socializing (Don’t forget to keep your distance, 6 feet away and wear masks in public. Also since we're dealing with this pandemic, socializing can be a video call with your loved ones, friends and family)
· Getting sufficient sleep or relaxing can greatly minimize your levels of stress.
In addition to practicing stress reduction techniques, you can support your digestive health by drinking less alcoholic beverages or consuming less sugar- as too much sugar can cause an imbalance in the ratio of good and bad bacteria in the stomach. Increasing your intake of foods that promote digestive health such as those rich in probiotics or foods that aid the body in producing digestive enzymes is also helpful.
The gut is often referred to as “the second brain” of the body. If you are experiencing consistent complications of the digestive system, your body is probably trying to tell you that there may be a bigger problem.