Are you feeling stressed or anxious? You are not alone. In fact, you are in the majority. Today I’d love to show you a simple tummy technique that you can use in times of stress.
Anxiety can take a variety of forms and affect people in different ways. Coping with day to day challenges is difficult enough, but add to that living with uncertainty such as health, financial and societal issues, especially in these unprecedented times, and the underlying waves of anxiety can bubble to the surface for many.
In times of high anxiety and stressful circumstances, I find that the simple act of staying connected can be beneficial. Staying connected with friends, family and loved ones can provide support, in addition to that, and importantly, staying connected with yourself can also be key in offering relief. If you're uncomfortable speaking with a practitioner face-to-face about your anxiety, you can always connect with the licensed mental health professionals at BetterHelp.
Research shows that not all stress has a negative effect on your body, however, chronic and long term stress can compromise the immune system by raising catecholamine and suppressor T cells levels, suppressing the immune system. This suppression can raise the risk of viral infection and ultimately manifest in illness. Stress can alter the acidic concentration of the stomach, which can lead to peptic and stress ulcers or ulcerative colitis.
Our adrenals constantly working overtime, coupled with pent-up anger, fear, guilt, or resentment that is often held inside in stressful situations, can produce effects on the immune system. Instead of discharging our stress through lifestyle changes and nutrition, we can often hold stress inside of us, where its effects become cumulative. This stage two stress has been associated with the onset or the exacerbation of symptoms of common chronic disorders of the digestive system such as functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Everybody deals with stress differently and it can be stored in different areas of your body. Stress can be felt in the form of fear, pain, tension, or stiffness in your face, around the jaw, in your neck and shoulders, in your heart, diaphragm, around the pelvis and hips, and in particular in your stomach.
Your physical body needs to release emotion and if it’s suppressed and not expressed it can then manifest in your joints, tissues, organs, and bodily systems. In your gut, stress can manifest as gut issues, IBS, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and pain.
The relationship between psychological stress and the gastrointestinal system is complex and bidirectional. The digestive system has its own nervous system, known as the enteric nervous system and sometimes referred to as a "second brain", which houses over 100 million nerve endings. These nerve endings are designed to respond to stress hormones transmitted from the brain which is part of the “fight-or-flight” response.
The enteric nervous system, via a network of nerve pathways, uses neurotransmitters such as serotonin (of which over 90% is manufactured in the gut) to communicate and interact with the central nervous system. Stress can take up residence in the gut and the complex system of nerves in your gut can become hypersensitive and fire off, even in response to normal digestion. That’s why for some people eating a normal-sized meal can cause pain but for others, there are no symptoms at all.
As much of your stress is held in the gut, there are even metaphors for it - "My tummy's twisted in up knots!", "This is gut-wrenching". "I have butterflies". Deep breathing and self-massage are both very grounding therapies for the stomach, that can help you to relax and reduce reactivity to stress, relieve muscle tension, and release the knots and butterflies that nest in your tummy, setting them free!
I’d love to introduce you to a simple hands-on gut massage that you can try at home, to help you cope more successfully in times of stress, particularly if you hold tension in your stomach. This tension you may notice will show up in symptoms such as cramping, distension, or indigestion.
We all love massages. And so does our gut. Massaging your tummy before and after meals is therapeutic in so many ways – physically, mentally, spiritually, and even digestively!
So why should you be massaging your stomach (as if you really need a reason)?
A quick, gentle rub of your tummy as you read this will tell you all you need to know why it's a good thing. It just feels soooo yummy and relaxing. But it's much more than just that. It's especially a good personal care practice for your digestion. Gentle massage relaxes your stomach muscles and digestive system, allowing them to focus on their main job of processing nutrients and disposing of waste.
Get your gut gunk in the trunk unpacked and moving.
We can hold up to three kilos of waste (or gut gunk) in our front trunks! Three kilos of undiscarded food waste, bacteria, plaque, and, well, gunk. This build-up adds to weight gain and can contribute to fatigue and less nutrient and hydration absorption.
Taking Love Your Gut powder thirty minutes before you massage is an effective way of starting to gently clean and tone your gut, slowly 'chipping away' at the gunky build-up.
Are you ready to rest and digest?
There are a few simple practices to include with your massage. They all centre on priming your gut to do its job of processing nutrition and hydration.
Start with chewing your food well. Chewing acts as pre-digestion, breaking food down for easier processing. It also slows you down to enjoy food more and be present and in the moment.
Whilst you massage just remember, deep breaths. Deeeeeep. Brrrrrreaths. In through your nose. Right into the belly and feel your tummy expand as you inhale. Keep it there for a few seconds and release through your nose or mouth and feel your tummy contract.
Now that you have all the ins and outs in place, you're ready to get your massage on!
Go with the flow
The simple rule of a good gut massage is to follow the flow of your intestines. The food and hydration go through in a clockwise direction and our massage should follow suit.
Use your fingers or palm of the hand, rub in a clockwise motion around your navel. Apply the amount of pressure that feels best.
After the clockwise massage, try a vertical approach.
Start at the base of the ribs along your centreline. Then move in one motion down to just above your pubic area. It's akin to gently pushing the contents of your system through.Then do the same one or two inches to both the left and the right of your centre. Repeat for a minute.
To help with constipation, focus on acupressure points.
* The area two finger widths below the belly button
* The area along the center of your torso, halfway between the navel and the ribs
(Just a reminder to not use acupressure if you are pregnant).
Doing your own gut massage doesn't require the use of oil. It's more important and useful just to massage regularly. If adding elements like oil distract you then do them every so often. But if you like it, using oil can add a little indulgence and be moisturising. In Ayurvedic practice, sesame oil is used. Regular body oils work well, as do creams. It's a personal preference for what oil or cream you use. Again, it's more about getting into the habit of a lovely stress-relieving tummy rub.
Watch this simple self-care gut massage and give it a go on your gut!
- Using your hands, rub them together it’s nice to add some of your favourite oil on your hands and it makes it easier to glide across your skin.
- Begin on the lower left side of your stomach down by the bone of your pelvis.
- Rub in a circular motion lightly.
- Using both hands work gently around and down the navel.
- Work your way down to the right to the hip bone and back up to the belly button for 2-3 minutes.
If you're suffering from anxiety and it is unmanageable, it is important to speak with your health care practitioner and put in place a plan that will help support you.
Please try this massage and let me know what you think in the comments section below.