We need to talk about poo.
Whether you deal with anxiety on a daily basis, about to do something out of your comfort zone or just really stressed out, getting an upset tummy is a really common issue and one that isn’t talked about nearly enough. So let’s talk about it!
Why does it happen?
It’s a whole body affair. You can feel it; the churning. The tell-tale gurgle. The empty-yet-full sensation. The creeping cramp. The hot feeling in the back of your throat. But what is actually happening?
A little bit of Google research has taught me there is a powerful link between your brain and your tummy. Stress and anxiety cause the release of hormones which prepare the body to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. As well as causing various psychological, physiological and emotional changes, this triggers blood to be moved away from the tummy to the vital organs and slows down the digestive system to make sure you are ready for action. The stress response also causes muscle tension, including in the stomach.
Resulting symptoms can include:
- Appetite loss/increase
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Once these symptoms start, these often then go on to cause more anxiety and stress. What if I don’t make it in time? Have I spent too long in the toilet? What if I eat something that makes it worse? What if someone hears/smells/senses the buttery orgy going on in my belly?
What can I do about it?
Get some medical advice
Before we get into some general tips, I just want to make it clear that if you are suffering, your symptoms are getting worse, you’re struggling to eat, there’s blood or extreme pain, or you simply don’t feel right and are worried- go to your GP or talk to a pharmacist. Don’t be embarrassed, they’ve definitely been asked (and shown) worse. It might be nothing but it’s best to make sure there isn’t medical condition causing it and they might be able recommend more personal, tailored ways to ease some of your discomfort.
Deal with the stress
I know, state the obvious. But dealing with these emotions and getting yourself into a calm state is the only sure-fire way to stop the symptoms. Depending on what is causing the stress, this might include long-term treatments such as therapies, medication, simply riding out the stressful time or reducing some of your commitments.
In the short-term, however, there are small things you can do to help reduce stress. From meditation and mindfulness practices to other relaxing activities such as reading, listening to music and even some light exercise, taking time out can ease stress and help your body start to recover.
Keep it simple
Stress can really affect the way your body processes food. Try to keep it light, easy-to-digest, regular and simple. When you feel sick or crampy, avoid anything too rich, caffeinated, with high levels of fat and sugar, and for god’s sake don’t eat loads of chilli! Also, be mindful of what you are eating and how your body is reacting. This will help you to learn what foods give you issues and make better choices.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Especially if you have diarrhoea, make sure you are drinking enough fluids. Little, regular sips of water (not big gulps!) can help you to avoid dehydration and help to settle your tummy. Tonic water or cooled boiled water can also help to settle an upset tummy.
I absolutely swear by ginger for nausea and tummy ache. I just cut up a small piece into cubes and pop them into some hot water, maybe with some lemon, for a soothing tea (you could also just get a teabag). Peppermint is another good one for these issues. Smelling peppermint oil, having a cup of peppermint tea or just sucking a mint can really help calm things down. Just don’t have too much as this can go the other way and make your symptoms worse.
Prep for the panic
Whilst you can prep all your regular-use toilets, we all know the quality of external facilities can vary massively. Popping a pack of tissues and some mints in your bag or pocket when you leave the house can help you to feel a little bit more secure and less worried.
Give your body a break
You’ve got enough to deal with without humming Johnny Cash every time you walk out of the loo. You don’t have to go all out and buy some quadruple-ply, silk-infused organic bum pillows, just an upgrade from sandpaper. (We like Who Gives a Crap!) Also, try not to wear anything that might dig into your tummy, this will only cause you more discomfort.
Heal with heat
Wheat bags or hot water bottles on your lower belly can really help to sooth cramping tummies. Not only does it feel comforting, but researchers have found that heat applied externally can help to relieve internal pain by deactivating the pain at a molecular level. You can even make your own microwavable heat bag using rice (Google it!).
Accept it will pass
As mentioned above, the connection between your tummy and brain is very intricate and complicated. Reducing your stress will eventually reduce your upset tummy, but it may take a little time and practice, and it is not something you can really control. Accepting you will have some discomfort but recognising it will eventually pass will help to curb your frustrations and make you much happier in the long run.
Wishing you a wonderful week and healthy bowel movements!