Our digestive system and mental health

Monday 15th April 2024 | Physical Health Conditions

How is our gut related to our mental health?

Many people who experience anxiety and stress also experience digestive and gut problems. This can include stomach pain, loss of appetite and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Our mind and bodies are linked together.

If you close your eyes for a moment and think strongly about your favourite food (it could be pasta, pizza, fruit or even chocolate) and think about what it would be like to eat your favourite food right now, what would it taste like, smell like and what it feels like. Did you notice any changes in your body? You might have experienced your stomach growling, your mouth becoming wet due to the production of saliva or even licking your lips. This happens because when we think about our favourite food our body will naturally react as our Enteric Nervous System (known as our second brain is located in our gut) and is connected to our actual brain via our central nervous system.


How does our mental health affect our gut?

For many of us who are experiencing a mental health and/or physical health condition we can experience added stress and stomach problems. For example:

  • Anxiety: When we feel anxious, we experience an increase in our hormones (particularly adrenaline) which can interfere with our digestion. We may experience discomfort in our gut including nausea, occasional vomiting or the most common symptom is “butterflies in our stomach”.
  • Depression: The most common symptom associated with depression and the gut is a loss or increase in appetite. Very often we may comfort eat to manage our low mood or due to lack of energy and low motivation we may skip means as cooking may feel like a big task.
  • Stress: When we experience stress our digestive system slows down, we can experience stomach pains that can lead to diarrhoea and constipation. Stress and anxiety can lead to painful flare ups and bloating for those with IBS. The more anxious and stressed we feel the more flare ups we can experience and often we might find it difficult to know what symptoms are related to IBS and which symptoms are related to anxiety and stress.


How can the gut impact our mental health?

We know that our mental health impacts our gut and digestive system, but research has also found that our gut can impact our mental health too which influences our mood.

  • Pain and discomfort: When we experience pain, inflammation, or irritation in our bodies it can lead to feelings of sadness and low mood. If we are unsure what is causing the pain or discomfort it can lead to anxiety and worry about what could be happening.
  • Flare up and changes to bowel habits: When we experience bowel changes or flare ups particularly if we have IBS this can often lead to low mood and frustration. We can also feel anxious and uncertain particularly if there is no pattern to the flare ups and bowel changes or if we suddenly have the urge to use to the toilet and we fear something bad happening. This can lead to feelings of embarrassment and shame. We might start to avoid using public toilets or fear using a toilet in fear someone might hear us or if there is a smell. If we then don’t use the toilet when we need to, this can cause disruption between our bowel and brain.


What treatments can be helpful for managing our digestive system and mental health?

We need to consider both our physical health symptoms and mental health. We know that psychological therapy can be helpful for both our mental and physical health.

  • Medication: It’s best to discuss any medication with your GP as often fibre medication can be prescribed to aid symptoms of constipation and antidepressant medication have been previously used to treat IBS too as well as symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s very important to seek medical advice for taking any medication to ensure it’s safe and correct for you to take. We do not offer medication advice at Lifted Therapy.
  • Tips to aid digestion: Taking your time when eating meals, exercising regularly and drinking plenty of water can all help our digestive system
  • Psychological Therapy: The use of psychological therapy including CBT has been shown to be helpful improve quality of life by managing symptoms of anxiety in response to bowel difficulties as well as psycho-education on managing IBS symptoms. We can identify the connection between our mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Tips for reducing anxiety and stress: Research has found that reducing anxiety can have an impact on our gut discomfort. This can be through relaxation techniques, deep breathing and even yoga!


How can Lifted Therapy help?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as mentioned above, is a common and helpful treatment for managing any discomforts and difficulties with professional help. Lifted Therapy provides fast access to CBT treatment, which you can read more about here. If you are interested, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can book a free initial appointment using our online booking form at a time and date that works best for you.