When your body is under stress, the energy necessary for digestion is diverted elsewhere so that your body can concentrate on saving your life! This happens whether you’re actually fighting a tiger, or simply rushing around trying to get to work in the morning.
Invoking the stress response means that your levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes will be lower than they should be. So if you are eating on the run or grabbing a sandwich at lunchtime but still working at your desk, then you won’t digest that food properly and you’ll end up feeling uncomfortable.
Whether it’s due to deadline pressure at work, or time pressure at home, gulping down meals while feeling stressed can result in heartburn, stomach cramps and feeling bloated.
If this sounds familiar, follow these 3 top tips in order to help your digestive system:
Take time to relax and eat
Try not to eat on the run or when stressed. When your body thinks it is under stress, your stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, are released and end up disrupting the digestive process. As a result, you won’t adequately absorb the goodness from that food, leaving you bloated and uncomfortable. You may also get loose bowel motions or even diarrhoea as the stress hormones continue to make the rectum muscles relax.
Even if it’s just for 10 minutes, make time to eat at each meal. Before the first bite, do some deep belly breathing and consciously try to relax your body, drop your shoulders and calm your mind. Take a break from your busy day and savour your food.
Chew, chew, chew
The first part of digestion happens in the mouth, so to have a healthy digestion it is really important to chew well. Chewing also signals the other parts of your digestive system to get ready to receive food, and your digestive juices start to flow as a result.
Another advantage of eating slowly is you are less likely to overeat. Once you start eating it takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full. So if you eat slowly you will end up eating less food because your brain will tell you that you have had enough.
Watch what you drink
Avoid drinking too much liquid with food as this dilutes the digestive enzymes in the saliva in the mouth which makes the first part of the digestive process less efficient. Also the next part of digestion after the mouth is the stomach and this needs acid to break down the food.
Having water with the food makes it harder for the stomach to do its job and may end up producing more acid. Water is hugely important to our bodies, and it is recommended that we all drink between 6-8 glasses per day…..but just not while we’re eating.
In addition, coffee stimulates the production of your stress hormone, adrenaline, and as a result, causes peristalsis, the wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract. Adding coffee into an already stressed eating pattern is not a good idea and can actually both irritate the bowel and cause loose bowel movements.
Along with our top three tips, there are also some natural substances that can really support and soothe your digestive system and are worth trying out if you tend to suffer from stomach cramps and indigestion.
Fennel: helps prevent and relieve flatulence, as well as soothing the digestive tract and reducing cramps and spasms. Try eating it cooked or add thinly sliced raw fennel into salads. Fennel tea is another great way to use this herb.
Peppermint: this herb has had the most research and it can help eliminate or reduce spasms, bloating, trapped wind, constipation and diarrhoea. Try drinking a cup of peppermint tea.
Ginger: ginger acts as an anti-spasmodic and it relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract. It is also known to reduce anxiety which for some people can worsen gastrointestinal symptoms. Grate ginger root into stirfries and soups or use it to make a delicious tea.
Probiotics: probiotics are the hot topic of the digestive health world. Research has been mounting over the years to suggest that probiotics can be extremely beneficial for many digestive problems. They are better taken in supplement form as often the probiotic can be high in sugar and they don’t always mention the amounts of bacteria in the product. Natural yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods also supply these.
Apple cider vinegar: sipping a glass of warm water with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar about 20 minutes before you eat can really help to stimulate your digestive juices. Consider sipping on this as you get ready in the morning, while you’re sitting at your desk before lunchtime, or while you’re getting dinner ready in the evening.

Nutritional Therapist