Stress & how it can impact gut health

Trina O'Duffy
Written by Trina O'Duffy

Most of us have felt a ‘gut feeling’ – when you walk into a group of new people, and you get this strong sensation that you are not supposed to be there or a strong feeling that you are in fact exactly where you are supposed to be. Our gut and our brain communicate, they have a two-way axis and send signals to each other.

It happened to me not that long ago, I was out for a drink with a group of 16 new girls ‘friend dating’ in a new city, and I was having a lovely time and then it was suggested we continue for dinner – super quickly I had a ‘knowing sensation’ not to go, my gut told me no, my head then told me no and I ignored them both and my mouth said yes! Toward the end of the dinner, I had an overwhelming sensation that I had to leave – immediately – I quickly said my goodbyes, left and almost had a panic attack. I hadn’t listened to my gut, I hadn’t honoured myself and what I needed most in that moment and it made my flight or fight response kick in (sympathetic nervous system). I ran out of the situation feeling stressed, anxious, and unsure of who I was and what I as meant to be doing in that moment.

That stress went straight to my stomach – another common phrase, but what does that mean and how does it manifest? It can be different in everyone, but during that flight or fight response, which is excellent in a situation when you need to escape e.g., something falling out of the cupboard and your body reacts before you’ve realised and you move or, the more common example, of running instinctively if you were being chased by a lion.

Our bodies are so intelligent, they switch on our sympathetic nervous system to protect us and our brain triggers hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline to be released so our body is alert and equipped with the energy we need to react – incredible! But at the same time, it switches off our digestion – because you don’t need to be busy digesting food when you’re trying to remove yourself from ‘danger’.

Now imagine that you’re in a situation like I was, or little things at work are constantly stressing you out – its building and building and you are feeling that stress and anxiety consistently. The thing is, your body can’t tell the difference between these micro stressors and actual dangers, so your digestion is not constantly on. You might be experiencing stomach aches, bloating, maybe you’re not going to the toilet frequently or normally – so much so that you think that this is your normal and you’re used to it. “This is just how my body works” – but it doesn’t have to be this way!

When we’re in this constant state of stress we are not giving our bodies the chance to function as they should – we are in a state of resistance where our bodies continue to push through. Maybe you are trying other things to feel healthy, but the thing is that no matter what we’re eating or how much we exercise, if our digestion is constantly in this state of stress, switching on and off, you won’t feel the benefits of these healthy habits as much as you could.

Our bodies are amazing things – they will push through, but if we always ignore its cues then we could get to the point where we hit burnout.Maybe we will get a bout of sickness because our immune system is so run down and needs to release some built-up toxins, or it could trigger a panic attack.

All these things happen because we aren’t listening, so our body has to do something to make us stop and listen.

What can we do? We need to spend more time dropping into our bodies to get them into a state of rest (parasympathetic nervous system) – but what does this mean? When our body and mind rest, sleep and pause, they can heal.

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

How can we do this?

When you actively practice resting, you’ll start to notice your body functioning properly – you’ll start to reset.

A way that I have used to test my stress reaction was whilst sat in traffic when I was in a rush somewhere. You can’t go anywhere – it’s completely out of your control – so in that moment you have two choices

  1. Get frustrated, panicked, thinking about the future consequences, that bubbling feeling of stress gets activated and your shoulders tighten and eventually your stomach will react – this doesn’t always necessarily happen instantly, it could respond the next time you eat for example or,
  2. You take a deep inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and you say to yourself “okay, there is nothing I can do to change what’s happening” and you actively decide to remain calm, stay in the present and therefore in your body. If you feel it rising again – take another breath – and you continue to practice.

Being aware of our response is the first step.

We always have a choice as to how we react. If you can practice giving yourself a moment to pause and get present in your body – you can then decide how the world around you impacts you. In the end, when we are stressed, it is our mind and bodies that feel the stress the most.

I work with individuals, groups and businesses finding this connection and healing their gut health – reducing stress, building healthy eating habits and their intuition so they know exactly what it is they need and getting people excited about learning more about their bodies and gut!

If you want to know more about what I do and how to work with me – follow me at: @trinajaneoduffy or and

Main image by Pretty Sleepy Art from Pixabay