When and where your stress is…
I feel very privileged to have cultivated a unique perspective on the gut and gut health. As a Nutritionist, Naturopath and Colon Hydrotherapist, I have seen thousands of both women and men up close and personal, and how their guts respond to various external and internal stimuli. How and what we eat, how and where we hold our stress, how we feel about the world around us. Ultimately, emotions, conscious or sub-conscious, are held in the body – affecting our health.
No doubt you have heard that the gut is the “Second Brain” and terms like “Microbiome” and “Gut-Brain Axis” are becoming part of common parlance. Ask yourself where you hold your stress. Generally, I find that women hold it in their gut/stomach area and men more in their back/neck and shoulders. (You may even find that you hold it in both places).
If you do hold it in your gut, then you may not even be aware of it. Try this simple exercise: lie down on your back, press your hands into your abdomen. Is your mid-riff area hard to the touch? Regardless of how good your abs are, this area should be soft and malleable. I meet many women who’s abdomen area is resistant to massage. They are under the impression that this is as a result of all their hard work down the gym, but when a six-pack is relaxed, it should be easy to manipulate.
If you push down into the area under your rib-cage, is it tender or painful? Does it resist your touch? Ideally it should be as easy to push into as relaxed butt cheeks. If this is not the case, then it is likely that you are holding stress in this area.
How then does this tension affect the muscles underneath? If the abdominal muscles closer to the surface are in a constant state of contraction this affects the smooth muscles underneath. The latter are responsible for peristalsis (the moving of food and waste through your alimentary canal).
You have no conscious control of peristaltic smooth muscle action – making them more susceptible to sub-conscious stress. Becoming aware of where you hold your stress is important: it makes sense that a gut that is less tense is one that works more effectively.
Your gut is the largest storage area for Serotonin in your body. Research indicates that up to 95% of the body’s stores are kept here (1). Most of us are familiar with this neurotransmitter’s role in mood regulation but it is does much more than this. This molecule is not only responsible for normal intestinal function – it is also crucial for sleep regulation (2), appetite (3) and pain sensitivity (4). However, Serotonin is only one player in a vastly complex system. We are just beginning to understand the importance and function of the Microbiome/Microbiota. It is astonishing to consider that there are 100,000 times more microbes in your body than there are humans on this planet! (5)
Resolving any person’s storage of negative emotions in their gut is a complex process that requires an individualized plan: it includes looking at how they respond to stress, their emotional resilience, diet and overall health. However, I have found that asking a simple question often opens up the door to establishing a link between the gut and the emotions. The question is quite straight-forward on the surface and it is best to go with the first answer that comes to mind, with either a Yes, or a No.
The question is: ‘Do you feel safe in the world?’
Most of the time, I find that those who state that they feel unsafe, are those who exhibit some sort of emotionally-related gut issue. If sub-consciously we are preparing to battle an un-known foe or danger, no matter how small, we can be on higher alert than necessary and less relaxed in our own bodies.
- Mayer, Emeran. The Mind-Gut Connection: How the Hidden Conversation Within Our Bodies Impacts Our Mood, Our Choices, and Our Overall Health (Kindle Location 4809). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
- Dugovic, C., 2001, Role of serotonin in sleep mechanisms. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11924032
- Halford, JC, Blundell JE, 2000, Separate systems for serotonin and leptin in appetite control https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10821329
- Viguier, F. et al., 2013, Multiple roles of serotonin in pain control mechanisms–implications of 5- HT₇ and other 5-HT receptor types