Think back to the last time you had to do something scary. Maybe it was giving a big presentation. Maybe it was when you were about step onto the biggest, fastest ride at the theme park. Whatever your situation, you likely felt your emotions in your gut, and you may even be feeling stomach somersaults now recalling these memories.
Though it feels like it, your stomach is not actually flipping around in your abdominal cavity. You’re experiencing a nervous stomach — that feeling that happens when gastrointestinal conditions like bloating, diarrhea or indigestion are triggered by emotions.
Your ‘Second Brain’
A “gut feeling” isn’t just a trendy saying. There’s a real connection between the gut and the brain thanks to a network of neurons, hormones and chemicals. This network helps signal to our brains when we’re hungry or full, if we’ve ingested a dangerous or disease-causing virus or bacteria or substance, and if we’re stressed.
If you’re dealing with a case of nervous stomach, here’s what you need to know to soothe your tummy.
Figure out how your symptoms present
Nerves manifest differently in everyone. Someone may experience diarrhea before a stressful event, while another person may be constipated, feel nauseous or have heartburn or indigestion. It also may take a while for you to figure out your digestive discomfort is related to anxiety or nerves rather than a food intolerance or virus or bacteria.
Helpful tip: If you have a food allergy, you’ll likely experience immediate symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, hives or trouble breathing after you eat a certain food. Food sensitivities cause similar, less intense symptoms that can appear 45 minutes to days after the problem food is ingested. If you think you have a food sensitivity rather than a case of nerves, keep a food diary to help you find the offending food.
Find your triggers
Certain memories cause an upset stomach for some people, while certain emotions — like anger, fear or sadness — cause the same symptoms for others. Once you know what bothers your belly, try stress reduction techniques like deep breathing, yoga or journaling. If stress reduction techniques aren’t working and you’re experiencing frequent stomach upset, see your doctor.
Eat stomach-soothing foods
If you know you’ve got a stressful event coming up, try eating stomach-soothing foods to keep your digestive system calm. Soothing foods include things like:
Though it might take some time to uncover that a case of nerves is causing your digestive issues, knowing your triggers, reducing your stress and eating stomach-calming foods can help get your gut back in shape. If your symptoms persist, or you have questions or concerns, talk to your doctor.