“I feel like I have tried everything to get my digestive issues under control and am just so sick of feeling sick.”
This feeling is unfortunately far too common among people who are struggling with digestive health issues. What you eat, how often you eat and how food makes you feel have become almost an obsession because you feel like you are on this rollercoaster - never knowing what will trigger your symptoms next and how long they will last.
You know intuitively that things have to change in order to feel better, but it can be tough to take the first step because you don’t know where to start. You may feel overwhelmed by the sea of the information out there. This sea of information can also be complicated by feeling let down by the medical system and that something is being missed.
You have probably tried a variety of things like elimination diets, supplements, medications, exercise, and meditations. With each new strategy being sure that ‘this’ will finally lead to the answer - and yet you are still left feeling stuck! Why is this?
This is where the gut-brain connection comes in. How - you ask?
If you have been struggling with digestive symptoms for a while, it is likely that there is a dysfunctional relationship between your gut and your brain. This relationship can become dysfunctional due to different factors including:
Unmanaged/undiagnosed digestive conditions + associated symptoms
Stress and anxiety
In a normal gut-brain connection, they talk to each other and share messages as needed, and are able to ‘let go’ of sensations that do not require continued attention or action.
However, when you have been struggling with digestive conditions for a while, this connection can become hypersensitive. Hypervigilant. You may notice yourself paying more attention to your gut, food and what comes out of you than most people.
Don’t worry - you aren’t crazy. This hypersensitivity is normal after dealing with digestive struggles. However, it is likely contributing to your ongoing symptoms.
Fortunately there are ways to help you feel better, to re-train your brain.
1. Listen to your body - take time to slow down and really listen. When you are feeling digestive symptoms - instead of powering through and continuing on with your day like so many of us do, take the time to actually slow down, tune in and listen to what your body is telling you it needs. It is often surprising what we learn simply by taking the time to listen.
2. Mindfulness - it is pretty incredible the plethora of ways that practicing mindfulness can help improve your health - from improving the functioning of the immune system to reducing hypersensitivity to bodily sensations and GI symptoms - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by practicing mindfulness on a regular basis.
3. Stress + anxiety management - if you are feeling overwhelmed by these feelings, take time to figure out what you need to help you to effectively manage stress + anxiety. Are there boundaries in your life that need to be set or re-defined? Are you missing self-care from your day? Can you schedule a regular ‘distanced’ walk with a close friend to fill up your cup? Perhaps it is time to reach out to a mental health professional to help you cope with these feelings. As you engage in strategies that help you to reduce and manage stress + anxiety, you will start to re-train your brain to not immediately go to ‘fight or flight’ aka worst case scenario with every trigger.
4. Practice self-compassion - this is my passion! I have published peer-reviewed research papers on this topic specifically related to helping people to cope with celiac disease + digestive distress. Not surprisingly, when people practice self-compassion, they report better overall quality of life, less GI distress, less anxiety + depression and are better at following medically prescribed regimens (e.g., diets).