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How to Cope With Stress-Related Stomach Issues

Once you determine that your irritated stomach and other gastrointestinal issues are related to stress and anxiety, it can be challenging to overcome this complicated mind-body problem.

Experts share some tips as to how you can say goodbye to both the mental and physical complications that stress and anxiety can cause.

Kristen K. Brown, a celebrity stress coach, said in an email that in order to put an end to stomach problems caused by stress and anxiety, you can try making more time for yourself, and conquering the main stressor in your life.

“Often we think we are generally stressed out, but when you dig deeper, stress is really originating from one place but spilling over and affecting everything else,” Brown said.

“Start to build in a couple of minutes of quiet time a few times a day to just stop and focus on the present moment. We are always thinking about what's next, and that causes life to spin out of control sometimes, which leads to stress - and the biological symptoms like stomach problems that goes along with it.”

Elika Kormeili, a licensed therapist, sent the following coping tips in an email:

1) “Make sure to get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep is both a physical and mental stressor.”

2) “Develop a relaxation practice. Find a relaxing activity you enjoy and do it every day. It could be a calming Yoga class or something as simple as learning proper breathing techniques and taking a bath.”

3) “Be aware of your habits that could be causing stress such as procrastination, poor time management, lack of organization or poor personal boundaries.”

David Clarke, president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association, said in an email that in order to relieve gastrointestinal issues, the cause of stress needs to be identified.

He said common sources of stress include issues that a client is dealing with that are associated with an increase in symptoms, abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress and anxiety disorders.

“When these are treated successfully and the GI problems improve in parallel, then you have strong circumstantial evidence that the stress caused the GI symptom,” Clarke said.

“Usually the client is not fully aware of the magnitude of the impact the stress is having in their lives, so simply bringing this realization into conscious awareness can lead to significant improvement for many people.”

Erena DiGonis, a licensed psychotherapist and certified health coach, said in an email that GI issues could be caused or aggravated by long-term stress and anxiety.

She was able to help at least two clients with their gastrointestinal issues that happened to be related to stress. Both were diagnosed with medical issues like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

“Taking an anti-inflammation (treating anxiety and stress as inflammation just like sugar and junk food) approach, along with an elimination diet, is highly effective for these GI conditions regardless of diagnosis,” DiGonis said.

“Within a week, all of my clients [had] a decrease in symptoms. Within 2-3 sessions [they] were almost symptom free.”

DiGonis’ client who has Crohn’s said he was afraid to eat in the morning, so he only had a couple cups of coffee with milk, leading to explosive diarrhea.

“Together, we made connections between what he eat, how he ate and how his body reacted,” she said. “Listening to his body was key in healing his GI tract. He felt empowered and learned what to eliminate and what to eat more of.”

DiGonis has more tips for helping remove stomach problems and stress from your life.

“In addition to adding anti-inflammation foods and herbs, relaxation techniques; stress management; mindfulness and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are very effective,” she said.

“The key is to relax the body and mind so healing can take place.”

Frank Sileo, a licensed psychologist, said in an email that if you find out that sress and anxiety are causing your GI issues, it is time to evaluate your lifestyle and make any necessary changes for the better.

“Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy have been proven methods of helping individuals cope with anxiety/stress,” Sileo said.

“A mental health professional can teach individuals relaxation training and changing unproductive thoughts that may be causing feelings of stress and anxiety.”

“I have recommended things such as journaling, light exercise, yoga, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, using music and mental imagery as some of the ways to combat stress and anxiety,” he added.

“I teach my patients that they must come up with a stress management plan that they must implement every day, not just in heightened states of stress and worry.”

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