Sometimes when I'm creating a prescription, churning a set of symptoms in my head I wonder how much of what I'm treating is just L I F E? You know, the marathon we run from dawn to god-knows-when. School, work, school, sport, gym, footy, shops..... If we spend 1/3 of our life sleeping - I'd like to know how many hours I spend in the car commuting between the dots on my daily timeline. It's gotta be close to a PhD qualification by now. Ya feelin' me?
My feet start moving before my eyes adjust to the morning light and I literally feel like the car is already running before I get in. Which means the biology of my stress wakes with me, revving my adrenal engine well before my eyes can focus. And we can sit back and say that “our ancestors had it pretty easy" but that's no soothing balm to the cortisol ripping at my intestinal tract. And not just now and then - every damn time I ask my kids to unpack their lunch boxes, to brush their teeth, to not drop the F-bomb and fight? Basically, what I'm saying is O F T E N.
I’m guilty of thinking that if I just relaxed more, stressed less, fit more time in for Me things would get better. But in the new millennium these are practical tasks of impossible magnitude..... The fact is that gastrointestinal disorders affect 35% to 70% of people at some point in life, women more often than men.
What’s happening down there in our GUT when LIFE happens to us? Let's put this into some perspective:
We have a nervous system. It’s full of nerves - which respond to stress, stressors and basically anything that wishes to communicate with our brain (so everything).
Our Sympathetic Nervous System is the fight or flight response - that's us looking at our bags packed by the front door to do the Thelma and Louise. Our Parasympathetic Nervous System is the calming soul sister making you a cup of tea as you mentally unpack your bags and your lust for Brad Pitt. Both Nervous Systems communicate directly with the less rowdy Enteric Nervous System which helps regulate digestion. It's like 3 friends skipping a long each day hand in hand. La-di-da....
And it's the ENTERIC Nervous System that we refer to when we say "The GUT is the 2nd Brain". But WTF does that actually mean?
The lining of the GUT contains neurons (nerve thing-a-me-jigs) that stimulate muscles to contract moving food along the intestine, breaking it down into nutrients and waste product (poop). This is Peristalsis - the conveyor belt of food from one pie-hole to the other. And get this, it uses neurotransmitters (brain chemical thing-a-me-jigs) to communicate between the brain and spinal cord. This is the regulating function between the GUT LINING and the BRAIN. It’s all down to the Enteric NS - the Mary Magdalene of our Gut Intelligence (by that I mean kind of pushed aside and largely un-acknowledged). No offence.
So when a person becomes stressed, the fight-or-flight response is triggered and as a result digestion slows or even stops. It does this so the body can divert all its internal energy for, you know - survival. It's just not necessary to digest a doughnut during an apocalypse. Mama Nature got her stuff right early in our… Evolution.
Let’s shake a lil’ coconut sugar on this: If you’re shy (scared shitless) about public speaking, the digestive process may slow or be temporarily disrupted, causing abdominal pain and other symptoms of discomfort. Of course, it can work the other way as well: persistent gastrointestinal problems can heighten anxiety and stress and the wheel of where did this start turns round-and-round.
You can imagine how this might affect conditions such as constipation, diarrhoea, malabsorption, poor transit time, even-poorer nutrient levels, anaemia, indigestion, inflammation, bloating…. blah blah blaaah. So it might be wise to ask the question Am I Stressed? next time you experience bloating, pain and discomfort. And if you’re one of the bazillion people on the face of the planet who are stressed in 2018, you might wish to consider it a part of your treatment plan.
Here’s some ways to do that:
Just joking! That’s not my style…. but if you want me to be a wanker - run a bubble bath, journal your thoughts and feelings and stare blankly at your un-manicured toenails for 10 minutes.
In all seriousness - I don't need to tell YOU how to de-stress. There are books, Podcasts, workshops, rituals, punching bags, coffee cups and a million wannabes out there giving it a shot. I’m going to assume that the things you yearn for are there, just out of reach. You simply need the time to implement them. What I want to tell YOU is that by doing so, in whatever way suits - you’ll find the soothing balm you’ve been searching for.
In the same way you’d unequivocally replace the wheels of your car before they were flat and broken, leaving you stranded and stuck - your GUT deserves the same attention and respect. Because it can do the same AND so much worse.
And though I wanted to leave the blog on a trembling note, I can’t waste an opportunity like this…. You're welcome!
Naturopath | The Hollow Store | Nurture Magazine | Speaker | Mama | Realist