Butterflies. Sinking feelings. Knots.
Yup, you name it, my stomach feels it. Now, self-care ain't always easy, but here's how I make it work and ditch those crazy knots.
I don’t know about you, but my stress manifests in my stomach.
The trillions of microbes dwelling in the intestinal tract regulate the immune system and impact our mood and behavior by transmitting signals to the brain. So when you have that “gut feeling” it's the real deal - just as John Cryan, a neuropharmacologist and microbiome expert, explains in his TED talk.
Fun fact: we all have a second brain called the ENT. It is the nervous system in the gastrointestinal tract. Research indicates that your bacteria can “excite” your gut sensory neurons in your second brain and impact that “gut feeling”. As the scientific community learns more about the brain-gut axis, soon we will fully understand how the brain influences the gastrointestinal tract and vice versa.
So, for a long time, I’ve been working on managing my stomach knots and soothing those nerves. This is important because how I take care of myself directly impacts my bacteria.
Here’s how you can make self-care super easy:
When I feel stress creeping up, I try to book a spin class. Breaking a sweat and pumping my legs until they feel like jello helps that fizzle away that sinking pit in my stomach. Exercise truly alters the microbiome. This study revealed that mice who were forced to run a wheel versus those who ran voluntarily, had much more turicibacter bacteria, a strain associated with a strong immune function. So, yes, for me the spin bike is the human version of the hamster wheel and it works like magic.
Meditation and mindfulness calms down those butterflies. Focusing on my breath shifts my mental state instead of zeroing in on my upset stomach. Our bacteria populations affect our mood and as Professor Larry Smarr puts it: “if your microbiome is unhappy, you will be unhappy.” Meditation isn’t an easy practice for me. So, if I can do three whole minutes without any thoughts popping into my noggin - that’s an accomplishment.
Rolling out the mat and taking the time to do a few stretches really helps me chill out. Now, I like to think of myself as a “productivity ninja,” so chilling out isn’t my forte. At the end of the day, if I can make it to a yin class, or just find some YouTube videos at home, it helps me untangle those knots. Stress has a toxic effect on the biome. In this study, psychological and physical stress caused dysfunction in the intestinal barrier. Subjects with higher stress levels had an “enhanced uptake of potentially noxious material, like antigens, toxins, and other proinflammatory molecules, from the gut lumen.” So I try to do myself a favor and let go stress through yoga.
When things really go south, I take a mental time out and try to think of three quick things I am grateful for. Trying to see the light and the good in any situation helps me take the tension off. In the moment, this can be really difficult. Having strategies in place to conquer stress helps me navigate the harder days. Plus, lower stress levels support more vibrant gut flora. This research studied wild squirrels and found that the ones with lower stress hormones had more diverse microbiomes. So do your gut a favor and brainstorm some ways that will help you weather the emotional storm.
#5: Self-Care Sundays.
So, I started seeing this hashtag on Instagram and wondered what the fuss was all about. A whole day to myself to do whatever I want seemed selfish and unproductive at first. Now, there are no medical journals I can share to support this self-care hashtag. So, all I can dole out is my personal life experience. Giving myself the permission to have one full day off to do whatever I want, unplug, and make space for the fun things in life enables me to better deal with stress. When I’m less frazzled, I’m an overall better human being.
So, when you feel stress rearing its head, check in with yourself and listen to those gut feelings. Those knots speak mighty words.
Peace, love, and self-care,