How Stress Affects Your Digestive System…and What You can do About it for a Healthy Holiday


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I’m way too late to offer you any suggestions for healthy real food recipes for your holiday celebrations…that is, unless you’re totally unprepared, which could cause you to be stressed out, which could, as it turns out, negatively impact your digestive health.

Four days is plenty of time, fortunately, to practice some new stress-relieving, healthy lifestyle habits.

Allow me to explain.

As much as we’d like the holiday season to be all about good cheer, family, and joyful spirits, the reality is that there’s an awful lot to do in the month of December, and those lists can get overwhelming.

Couple that with the fact that holiday parties and family get togethers will probably be filled with unhealthy foods that you don’t usually eat, and suddenly you’re asking a lot of your system.

It’s well documented that the gut, brain, and stress are all related – doctors even use some of the same medications to treat digestive health issues and psychological disorders. (WebMD)

“The gut is…the largest area of nerves outside the brain.” says Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. This explains butterflies in the stomach when people are nervous and is the reason many people have digestive distress in various forms when they are stressed out. (Everyday Health)

How Stress Affects the Body

Our bodies have a natural stress response many call “fight or flight,” designed to help ye old cavemen survive the attacks of many-toothed predators. You may recognize the symptoms from the last time someone cut you off in traffic:

  • increased heart rate
  • elevated blood pressure
  • boosted energy supply (hey, no coffee needed!)

There are also a few things going on under the surface that you wouldn’t notice:

  • altered immune system responses
  • suppressed digestive system (who needs to digest when you’re running from a saber-toothed tiger?)
  • ditto the above for reproductive system and growth

(Source: Mayo Clinic)

What Happens When Someone is Constantly Stressed Out?

All the changes that occur in the body when the stress response is initiated are supposed to return to normal after the threat has passed and our neanderthal is sitting around the cavefire telling his buddies about his narrow miss.

But imagine a life of constant stress, from an overbearing boss, overpacked schedule, burning the candle at both ends, or simply trying to bake too many cookies before December 24th.

Poor digestive health and obesity aren’t the only physical issues you could have if “fight or flight” is your way of life, 24/7.

“Prolonged stress has a significant effect on digestive health. When the body experiences stress over a long period, the nervous system finds it increasingly difficult to ‘turn off’ the activity of the day, and allow sufficient rest overnight. The blood supply to the organs of digestion is increasingly diminished making repair difficult and digestion weak. In time, the bacterial eco-system in our digestive tract (so vital for nutrient absorption) becomes unbalanced and wind, pain and constipation and/or diarrhoea are more common.” (source: Sue Webster, colon hydrotherapist and allergy therapist)

Attune’s probiotic chocolate bar may not be able to reduce your stress, but if your gut’s bacterial eco-system can begin to get rebalanced, they’re worth it. You remember the importance of probiotics. And of course, we’re talking chocolate here. Maybe it can also reduce your stress. 😉

5 Healthy Lifestyle Habits to Promote Digestive Health During the Holidays

1. Don’t stress about perfectly healthy food – Unless you have a serious sensitivity or special diet, the holidays are a good time to make compromises while at social events. If you’re not wise about it, the stress of worrying about food sources could kill you before the junk food would have!

2. Plan ahead well – If you’ve made your lists, checked them twice, and attempted to stay on schedule, you’ll be less rushed and stressed on the day of the party/company coming/etc.

3. Be willing to cut a tradition or activity – Rather than allow yourself to be stressed out (and sick) over something that should be a special family time, choose the high road. Realize that your mental health is more important even than a family tradition.

4. Spend time with family and consciously appreciate them – Look into your children’s eyes. Initiate personal touch, whether it’s a full-out snuggle while watching Miracle on 34th Street or just a parental hand on the shoulder or ruffling of hair during a present-wrapping session. Try to strike up individual conversations at extended family events, and specifically savor them.

5. “Detox” after the holiday parties with simple, healthy recipes – Focus on basic whole foods. Eat a stir fry, make a crockpot roast with potatoes and carrots, or chicken breasts with just a little seasoning and baked potatoes. Snack on fresh fruits and vegetables. Appreciate eating but don’t let it take up all your time.

How will you keep your stress in check these next few days?

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