If Your Gut Health Is Suffering, High Stress Levels May Be The Culprit

Have you ever received distressing news and felt it in your gut? It isn't uncommon for people to experience gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea when under acute stress. What you might not realize is that this connection between the gut, the nervous system, and the brain is always present. It is not really a surprise, then, that chronic stress can majorly disrupt your gut health. In fact, a study published in Frontiers In Microbiology suggests that stress can physically alter the microbiome of gut bacteria which determines the way your digestive system operates.


Another major factor is the connection between gut health and mental health. It is a little-known and somewhat shocking fact that 95% of serotonin is produced in the intestine and not in the brain (via the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology). If your gut health is suffering, it is very likely that your mental health is suffering to some degree as well. Here is a guide to the connection between gut health, stress, and mental health and some tips on how you can heal.

Stress and the gut-brain axis

Serotonin isn't the only neurochemical that is largely produced in the gut. The same is true for GABA, norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine, and melatonin, according to the American Psychological Association. These neurochemicals affect the delicate balance of mental health cornerstones like mood regulation, cognition, and sleep cycles. While many of the exact manners in which the gut and the brain communicate are still being studied, experts theorize that the vast and diverse ecosystem of gut bacteria plays a vital role in the process. Stress, whether acute or chronic, can quickly alter the balance of this bacteria — allowing harmful pathogens to multiply and protective probiotics to die off (via Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences).


This means that in addition to gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, and frequent indigestion, stress can cause disruptions in mood, cognitive performance, and sleep that start in the gut. If you've been experiencing a combination of digestive issues and problems with mood, anxiety, brain fog, or insomnia, a stress-induced decline in gut health may be the root cause (via BBC). In order to recover, you'll need to rebuild a healthy gut microbiome and learn to reduce your stress levels.

How to recover

Stress makes life more difficult for the helpful bacteria in your gut and easier for the harmful varieties. One of the most effective ways to undo this damage to the gut's microbiome is to introduce more healthy bacteria to rebalance the scale, as reported by Harvard Medical School. You can accomplish this by adding probiotics to your diet. While daily supplements are one way to accomplish this, there are also many foods and drinks that can naturally provide them. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha are all effective options.


The other half of repairing stress-related damage to your gut health is, of course, reducing the amount of stress in your life. Consider making a commitment to removing unnecessary obligations and scheduling time to decompress. Practicing saying no in the way that feels most natural to you can make it easier to set boundaries around your time and value yourself more, according to Psychology Today. Reserving just ten minutes per day for a self-care practice such as journaling or centering yourself through medication can make a huge difference in your overall stress level and help prevent gut health burnout in the future (via In Bloom).