Our ancient biology dictates that when a threat is perceived, the breakdown of food is low priority – so the message is sent to the digestive tract to stop working (or if the stress is severe, to eject its contents completely!).
In the modern world, this translates to chronic digestive discomfort that runs the gamut from stomach ulcers and indigestion, to gas and bloating, to constipation or erratic and loose stool – just to name a few of the most common symptoms.
Why is it that our digestive system is so sensitive to our emotions and the degree of tension that we carry? The prevailing sense that our digestive system functions independently from our nervous system is false. In fact, it is a nerve center as complex as the brain.
As you may recall from 7th grade human biology class: the sympathetic nervous system activates fear and aggression, and puts our bodies into “flight or fight” mode.
The parasympathetic nervous system – which includes the enteric nervous system of the gut – governs “rest and digest,” and is activated by things such as farming, feasting, and storytelling.
Stressful experiences occur, yet there’s not always an immediate outlet for the fight-or-flight response. Our body readies itself for intense physical activity, meanwhile we’re stuck brewing at our desk. If this happens often, without resources to change it, eventually digestive function is weakened through chronic suppression of its activity. This phenomenon is exacerbated as we age because our biology has diminished capacity to recover.
Following are the most effective ways to harmonize digestion in a body that’s under stress:
Step 1: Realize that you may be asking the body to function in ways it’s not meant to. The symptoms your body has created are trying to tell you something – don’t neglect them, value them! Ask yourself, what is this telling me? What needs to change to bring my belly back into alignment?
Step 2: Relieve tension.
The best way to do this for many people is to exercise 4-6 times per week. Twenty minutes or so is sufficient to alter the mood and create relaxation, especially if you make it enjoyable. Take a walk with a favorite person or dog, get fresh air, or listen to uplifting music or a meditation to maximize your stress relief while you move your body.
Step 3: Practice food combining.
The concept behind food combining is this: eat foods that digests easily together, and your meal will pass easily through your system, and require minimal energy from your body to break down and assimilate nutrients. The result is that you don’t feel stagnant or sleepy, or create inflammation (assuming you haven’t eaten a food you are allergic to). Plus, your body experiences a net gain of energy, rather than a net loss.
Food combining takes some attention to learn because it’s not the way most of us are used to eating, but once you learn and practice the basics, you will never look back. This is an essential tool for anyone with a weakened digestive system! Read more about it here.
Step 4: Alkalize your system.
The chemistry of stress is acidic. Healthy blood and body tissues are alkaline. In order to have resilience against stress, you need to build your alkaline reserves. A few great ways to do this are:
• Eat lots of fresh raw vegetables
• Drink fresh vegetable juice daily
• Drink plenty of water with lemon or lime
• Practice deep abdominal breathing
• Think happy positive loving thoughts
All of these routines will directly benefit your digestion, harmonize your nervous system, and are profound self-healing practices, especially when done in concert consistently over time.
Try these steps and please let us know how they work out for you!