Many people view anxiety as a weakness, but I can assure you it is not. It’s your body’s reactions to stress that can present both physically and emotionally. It’s an intense emotional response from the brain preparing the body for an impending crisis. Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes faster and shallow, muscles tense for action, and blood flow is diverted from your digestive system to the brain. In short you are on high alert commonly referred to as ‘fight or flight’, which is OK if you are facing danger, but it has detrimental effects on your health when it becomes part of your everyday life.
There are a growing number of people that are suffering from unexplained or undiagnosed stomach pain, as well as those that have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) or Severe Dyspepsia (heartburn). The frustration for these people is that there doesn’t seem to be a workable solution for their condition, and they are left to suffer through the day relying on ineffective medication, or self-medication such as over the counter pain killers and alcohol.
What’s going on? The nerves that relate to digestion become hypersensitive to stimulation leading to abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, pain, nausea and vomiting. You may have some or all of these symptoms depending on how your body reacts. Remember earlier; when you are constantly living in a state of anxiety ‘fight or flight’, the blood redirects from your digestive system to your brain not allowing for the very important ‘rest and digest’ state. Your body is desperately trying to digest food and yet there isn’t enough blood flow through the organs to allow this to happen. The nerves aren’t protected and become sensitive leading to pain and discomfort. Try sliding down a water slide without any water running. You get stuck, it’s uncomfortable and you just wish someone would turn the water back on. That’s what is going on inside your body, no lubrication.
How do we fix it? First of all, we need to accept the link between our anxiety and our symptoms. We then need to make some pretty major changes in our lives to reduce our stress and anxiety triggers. This is not an easy fix, remember anxiety may have brought us to this state but it is a self-perpetuating condition that does not turn off easily. You have lived with this pain for so long and every time you eat the symptoms become worse, thus fuelling the anxiety. Have you ever noticed that on a good day your symptoms are less in the morning? That is because your nervous system has had time to dampen down overnight and your body has been in a state of ‘rest and digest’. As soon as you eat or think about eating then your anxiety levels start to rise as you worry about how your body is going to react.
Knowing and understanding what is happening in your body is the beginning of your journey toward living a normal life. You need support, education and understanding but it can be done. Your brain is the most amazing organ in your body and is capable of achieving wonderful things.