When All your Stress Goes to your Stomach

 

It’s a quiet day. You’ve finished up that contract before your vacation. The kids really like their new day camp. You feel pretty good, considering the roller coaster you’ve been on recently. You’re excited thinking about that new chicken recipe you’ll try tonight.

Then your mother calls to say that your father’s in the hospital again. It’s nothing major, but at his age, isn’t everything potentially major?

All thoughts of dinner leave your head.

In fact, your appetite gets kicked to the curb for the next few days, even once you know everything’s okay. Then your mystery cramps come back. You’re bloated and have to rush to the bathroom every couple of hours.

It’s how you felt before you admitted your marriage was done. It’s how you felt when you were finishing your Masters, when you were applying to university,… As long as you can remember, all your stress has gone to your belly.

You chalked it up to hormones, blamed it on your menstrual cycle.

You went through phases of fat-free diets, sugar-free diets, candida cures and giving up gluten. You’ve been tested for allergies and GERD with inconclusive results. You’ve taken Tums like candy and occasionally graduate to Pantoloc.

Some things help. Some don’t.

Some help until the next upset comes, and you start to understand the pattern.

 

You (over)react readily to everything. You feel things so deeply.

You’re sensitive.

I bet you grew up hearing that as if it were a bad thing.

“You’re so sensitive!” thrown out by other kids when you cried from missing the ball.

Your mother apologizing to strangers for your tantrum with, “she’s very sensitive.”

“Toughen up!”

You eventually learned to curb your reactions to life so as not to upset other people and not draw unwanted attention to yourself. Come to think of it, that’s when your belly started acting up.

Yes, you’re sensitive.

Your senses are highly attuned to your environment – that’s a good thing!

The 5 senses are the feelers that inform your nervous system of impending danger. Being able to recognize when you’re not safe is a strong survival instinct!

You’re sensitive also means that you are likely vulnerable to the subtler energy all around you:

  • your mother’s anger at your father as she quietly makes dinner;
  • the noise & chaos of all those kids in the class;
  • the overwhelming vibrations of the people on a crowded subway or at a concert;
  • the electromagnetic impulses whirling around your TV and computer and cell phone.

You are picking up more than you know, more than you want, and it plays into how much you can tolerate within your usual day.

With such a fine-tuned nervous system, your emotions are also closer to the surface, quicker to react.

Emotions are the movement that allows you to respond to that potential danger, and get you to safety. (Read more about the movement of emotions here.)

The French word for sensitive is sensible.

Sensible. The word we use in English to denote rational or logical. Considering that your survival is at stake, I’d say it’s rather sensible to be sensitive.

 

How your belly gets involved

A good portion of your nervous and immune systems are active in your digestive tract. Makes sense, considering that it’s one of the main ways we interact with the outside world, taking it directly into our bodies.

Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good and calms us down as part of the relaxation response, plays a role in appetite and digestive capacity.

If your nerves are reacting strongly to life, then so will your digestion.

It’s not just you. We all do: butterflies in the stomach when we’re nervous, can’t eat or eat too much under stress.

The more sensitive your nervous system, the more you’ll feel in your gut. The longer your digestion gets jostled by your stress level, the more it will lead to physiological issues and problems related to inflammation. Think about it, the “inflammation” itself is a direct manifestation of reaction to stress and emotion (anger).

Certain foods will be a problem for a variety of reasons.

  • Overstimulation from a food you eat all the time, in the same way you can get “sick” of the same pop song coming on every radio station every hour.
  • An underlying allergy to a food
  • Inflammation or genetic conditions impairing your ability to digest certain food
  • Poor quality foods, like trans fats, refined sugar, rancidity or mold, that your body doesn’t recognize as food and provoke inflammation
  • Reactions to the additives, bleaches, preservatives, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and radiation meant to keep our food safe
  • The way food was grown, harvested, processed, transported and handled by retailers will effect the energy of the food itself. If you’re highly sensitive, you may also be picking up on the vibrations and emotional states of the people involved in getting it to your table.

 

What can you do about it?

Here are but a few ideas to get you started:

Eat in a state of calm – engage the relaxation response by taking deep breaths or take a moment to give gratitude before you eat.

Meditate, to calm your nervous system in general.

Ground any anxiety with movement or by getting out in Nature regularly.

Eat clean.

Eat local and get to know the people who grow and prepare your food.

 

How does stress show up in your body? When you share your experiences in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Make a gift of this article to your friend with the constantly upset stomach, using any of the links here.

I’m Good All Day, then I Lose It after Supper

 

If I had a dime for every time I hear that one… clients and friends who start each day fresh, with new resolve to eat better and take better care of themselves, only to find themselves at the bottom of a cookie bag by bedtime.

I know the drill: you just want a little something sweet. One cookie turns to 3…plus a square of chocolate. Maybe a handful of chips, …may as well get a bowl…

Raise your hand if you’ve caught yourself in front of the fridge looking for something to do.

My mind also likes another type of rationale when I’ve eaten one of my no-nos (dairy & gluten), because that’s what was on offer or because there was a particularly fabulous version I didn’t want to pass up. Since I’ve already “cheated”, I may as well keep going.

I know perfectly well that one croissant or grilled cheese sandwich, once in a blue moon, won’t do me much harm, but, I definitely suffer when I overdo it.

Sure, there’s the 80/20 rule and cutting yourself some slack, and being forgiving rather than beating yourself up. What’s going on when things shift to 20/80 or the premenstrual grazing becomes a daily habit?

When the exception becomes the rule, it’s a sign there’s something more going on.

It may be a physical addiction to sugar or to an allergen. Yes, you can get addicted to things you’re mildly allergic to because it sets you up for a cascade of adrenaline and other stimulating biochemicals which give you a certain satisfaction beyond the taste of the food. Anything that tickles the ol’ brain chemistry is going to have your body calling out for more.

Certain aspects of addiction are about associations, so, we also start looking for the psychological need for a certain food.

Yes, it means digging around in the stories of your past yet again to discover the source of the issue. Once you shed light on it, though, you can more easily dust out the corners and then let its significance fade into the background.

A single woman came to me with headaches and other discomforts. Going through her eating habits, she admitted that she often ate a large bag of chips for supper. As we sifted through that fact, she remembered her alcoholic father, cruel and abusive most of the time, would occasionally come home on a bender, lavishing joyful attention on the kids, and declare it a party, complete with pop and chips. In her childhood mind, chips became indelibly linked with love. What more obvious food choice to make when the adult arrives home, stressed and lonely at the end of the day?

The fact is, under all of your grazing there’s an emotional need for something more.

A divorced man needed my help him with weight loss; a mother of a difficult teenager wanted my support to stick to her anti-inflammatory diet. Both were the epitome of the mindful eater who loses it after supper. One struggled with anger management and feared he’d never have someone in his life again; the other couldn’t get over the way her husband walked out the year before and left her to deal with the child alone. Both were clearly using the snacks as a way of burying the huge and overwhelming feelings that were never far from the surface – rage, grief and self-hatred and a basic desire to be loved. Scary stuff – the kind that you fear will take over and never leave if you let them in.

Without the junk-food as a crutch and a hiding place, they were each forced to come face-to-face with what they were feeling, experience it and move through it.

Maybe you don’t have any overt drama in your past and you’re not suppressing any big emotions, thank you very much. Maybe it’s just a few snacks in front of the TV.

How to get through the evening without snacks

 

Nothing wrong with that on occasion. If, however, that’s the norm; if you can’t face the evening without numbing out with TV & snacks, then it’s time to address what’s going on underneath.

  • Compensating for a lack of love,
  • Hiding from grief or anger or loneliness;
  • Craving something in your life but can’t put your finger on it;
  • Knowing what you want, but can’t sort out how to get it.

Until you sit with those thoughts & feelings, say hello to them, let them expand so you can explore what they need from you, you will stay stuck in that vicious cycle of grazing.

 

Offer yourself the white space for your thoughts and feelings to emerge.

It might will get messy and uncomfortable; let it be so.

Take some flower essences.

Call on your support system when you need them.

 

The peace you find on the other side with be well worth it.

 

What happens to you, inside, when you choose to stay away from the evening snacks? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

 

Send this post to a friend who’s stuck on this wheel, and let her know that you’ve got her back while she works through whatever comes up.

Something’s not right. Should I give up gluten?

 

Every once in a while, you get to the point in your life when something’s got to give. The sense of dissatisfaction spills over into your body, so you just don’t feel right, and those nagging little things start to get louder.

Life has a way of showing up in your body.

I’ve given up counting the number of women I come across who feel the stress of life in their digestive tracts.

  • Women whose IBS reflects the turmoil in their marriage or their job
  • who can’t eat when things get too intense
  • who develop allergies to everything from soup to nuts
  • who suddenly can’t digest the foods they’ve always eat
  • who start gaining weight without having changed a thing in their habits.

When life takes a big left turn, it’s only normal that you’re going to feel it where you’re most susceptible – digestive tract or other places.

When you’re in the muddy transition zone of moving from the life you knew into the vast unknown, your body is going to express its fear in the place it knows you’ll hear it.

When something desperately needs to change, your body will speak to you in a language that makes you pay attention.

Because you feel it in your body, the first place you’re going to look to fix things will be with your body.

Inevitably these women all ask me the same question: “Should I give up gluten?”

Possibly, though not necessarily.

 

Why gluten’s an all-around problem all of a sudden:

Without going into a long sermon about the overload of gluten (mostly highly-hybridized wheat) in our North American diets, understand that too much of anything difficult to digest will cause problems.

Being on the harder-to-digest end of the spectrum, gluten helps set the stage for inflammation anywhere in your body.

When there’s already inflammation specifically in the gut, there is limited access to the brush border enzymes that break down that gluten, amplifying the problem.

Meaning: If there’s any of inflammation in your body – anywhere in your body – gluten may do you more harm than good.

 

It’s not just the gluten:

I can almost bet that most of the gluten you eat comes in the form of refined wheat (or other grains), i.e. flour products. Even if your bread and pasta and muffins are made with whole grain flour…they’re still made with flour!!

As a matter of fact, even if you’re avoiding gluten, there are a heck of a lot of lovely substitutes that are also flour-based…because they’re aimed at replacing the stand-bys you’d rather not go without.

Think of it this way: remember when you were in kindergarten and you mixed flour and water to make a paste? Imagine how that paste would gum up your intestines, making the digestion of almost anything more difficult.

Meaning: Get your starch and sugars from whole grains (full stop!) and vegetables…not flour products.

 

The bigger picture:

Let me ask you this – regardless of whether you know the source of your stress and your belly aches:

What about your life are you not digesting?

What is it about your current life and the chaos you’ve been getting through that you can’t assimilate?

What are you having a hard time swallowing?

What makes you nauseous?

I can do this all day, but I think you get the point.

Here’s your invitation: Insert whatever symptom  you’re having (digestive or otherwise) into the metaphoric questions and notice what comes up.

Most likely you’ll find emotions that need expressing and beliefs that could use re-evaluating.

Meaning: Your digestion is a reflection of how you digest life.

I wrote a whole post elaborating on that idea here.

 

Chances are, even if staying away from gluten will ease your symptoms, the way your body is reacting – the way it’s speaking to you – will open the door to the places that really need your love and healing attention.

All you have to do is listen.

 

I’d love to hear what comes up for you when you ask yourself those questions. If it’s too personal for posting below, by all means, send me an email instead. When you share your story, you open the possibilities for others.

Be sure to share this post with those friends who are having a hard time swallowing their current reality by using any (or all!) of these buttons.

How to Dance Your Way to Better Health

 

More and more, the experts are telling us to clear blocked emotions as a necessary part in your healing journey. Dr. Northrup’s “You have to feel it to heal it” and other variations make complete sense. Yet, many of us – my hand’s raised her – are so out of touch with how we feel, it’s a challenge to truly GET that concept.

There was no room in my upbringing for the full spectrum of emotions – how many of you had parents who gave you space tantrums? Laughter or tears or outbursts of any kind, my brothers and I were told to “settle down”. The only emotions we ever saw in full regalia was anger – my father’s, sometimes my mother’s when we’d driven her completely up the wall – and never something we were free to send back in their direction.

Raised to use my head, I had little inkling that the feelings I knew had any depth beyond the small ripple they created in my mind and moods. Being a good girl, I was encouraged to keep it that way.

Believe it or not, I actually learned how to feel from a book. I was at my first yoga retreat, and picked up a stray copy of Gay & Kathleen Hendricks’ Conscious Loving. That was when, at age 29, I learned that emotions are felt in the body. Yoga was the doorway to my more fully realized self, in that it gave me the tools and space to start along a path of integrating all my parts – body, mind, heart & soul.

It’s been a long, ongoing process to learn – nearly another 20 years for me to find the courage to explore my feelings to their very fullest. For the longest time, I was scared of big emotions, in others as well as myself. They are so chaotic, unpredictable and potentially dangerous.

And you know what it’s like, you want to do things that make you happy and get through the negative emotions as quickly as possible.

Thing is, emotions are neither good nor bad. Like the rain, they have no inherent value. In cold & dark November, it’s depressing, at the end of a scorching July day, it’s a godsend. The rain necessary for life to shift and change and grow.

We try so hard to increase our joy, always looking for the shortcut or the magic bullet to happiness & love, that we’ve lost touch with the healthy aspects of anger, fear and sadness. We have no time in our schedules to give them space, so we ignore them, override them with a smile or suppress them with pills, alcohol, sugar and other drugs.

Emotions are like water. Close them up for too long and two things can happen. With no hint of movement, the pool stagnates, creating a breeding ground for mould, bacteria, parasites (auto-immunity, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, IBD,…) Holding back a river requires a strong dam and a lot of physical energy, depleting your body’s defenses and feeding such states as anxiety or depression. There’s also the risk that the slightest crack in the wall will release a wild, even destructive flood.

Like water, e-motions are nothing more than energy-in-motion. They need to flow. They become unhealthy when we avoid them or let them get pent up.

Your core emotions, and the physiological responses they create in your body are part of your communication system. They are in place as part of your survival.

Follow the movement, the dance each one invites you to share and you’ll see what I mean.

(I’m serious, stand up and do this with me – maybe one day soon I’ll add a video to help this along.)

We start with Joy or Desire.

Think of something that has made you just overflow with happiness. Where do you feel it? Likely, it’s somewhere in your torso, your heart centre. Sit with it a moment until you feel the movement in there. Perhaps it’s open-chested, shoulders back, leaning in.

Desire is a step forward.

It says, This feels good, this nourishes me, let’s go for it!

It connects you to the world and people and situations that light you up. That nurture you and help you grow. It’s that feeling of a little girl seeing her mom after a long absence and running to her full-tilt, with open arms.

The direct opposite of Joy is Sadness.

Think of something that makes you sad. Where do you feel it and how does it move? Still in your torso, I bet, though closing inward this time. Sadness retreats, curls you into a ball.

It tells you where you’ve disconnected, be it consciously or not, from your loved ones, your community, your sources of nourishment.

It’s part of your survival in the same way that a seed ensures the survival of a plant. The seed’s job is to disconnect, to leave the mother plant. It’s a tightly closed capsule that contains all the energy and nutrients necessary to create a whole new plant. Once it finds the ideal environment and gets exposed to a bit of water, it cracks open.

When you’re sad – usually at the (forced or planned) disconnection from someone or something you love – you can feel uprooted. It’s survival to gather your resources and save your energy until conditions seem safe again. Shedding a few tears (or buckets-full!) will eventually crack open your heart and mind to re-engage with life.

Anger is your inner mama-bear at work.

Without going overboard, think of a situation that pisses you off. Notice where it sits in your body and how it wants to move. It yells and waves its arms around and snarls and wants to throw things – it basically says, Keep the hell away from me!

Anger can be scary in that it is large and loud, but it’s purpose is not to inflict harm.

Anger protects your from harm. It helps you set and maintain healthy boundaries – that perimeter of safe, personal space around you. It kicks in when that safety has been breached.

Bears don’t attack people for the heck of it. Generally a wild animal will only attack if you’re too close to their shelter, their food or their children – when you’ve threatened their basic needs.

If you’re angry (frustrated, irritated, impatient, annoyed, irritable,…) it’s an indication that your survival, that one of your needs – what you need to both survive and thrive – has been removed or threatened. (See this list of basic human needs that, yes, include things like touch and attention.)

Anger moves up and out. It’s loud and needs a lot of space. Follow that flow – better out than in!

A child psychologist once gave me the “anger rules” for my boys. They basically say you’re allowed to be angry, you’re just not allowed to hurt anyone (including yourself) nor damage anything. She encouraged us to make an angry corner where the kids were allowed to punch pillows, shred paper, yell & scream or whack a door frame with a tea towel when the need arose.

Try giving yourself permission to do the same. You might even want to put on a timer so you don’t go too far overboard. (The tea towel one is great, especially when you also yell all the furious, horrible things you want to say to the person/situation that has you riled.) Let loose in your tantrum! Then let yourself settle back into the calm. You’ll find that you are now able to deal with whatever was bothering you with a more rational & productive approach.

Maybe I’ve left Fear for last because it’s my own particular nemesis.

Call it childhood programming or part of my path, but fear is my first reaction to any situation even remotely out of my comfort zone. It blows up to unreasonable proportions. I’m a great one for lying in bed at 3 am turning molehills in mountains that threaten to crush me in their shadows.

What scares you? How does it show up in your body? Fear is a step backwards…or in my case, turns me around and has me run away screaming. Fear can also freeze you in place.

Its purpose is to keep you out of harm’s way. When you get to the edge of a cliff staying stock-still or stepping back are the only wise choices.

Fear says, This doesn’t feel right, let’s get out of here, or check things out before taking another step. When you’re walking down a dark road, it’s the feeling that reminds you to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Fear has a tricky counterpart: it can be the feeling your ego sends when you’re about to walk down an unfamiliar road. Because you have no way of knowing which twists and turns and cliffs you’re likely to encounter, it tries to prevent you from going that way at all.

I’ve learned to use this type of fear as a tool: it reminds me when to step back to reassess and informs me of how huge the potential reward and growth will be at the other end. (This can be a strange concept to wrap your head around – some days, I’m not sure if I get it fully myself – it will likely show up as its own exploration in a later blog.)

Emotions are the energy of life. The dances they lead you on are the steps to a more fulfilled, more expanded, more fully actualized version of you.

Emotions are the cues to being fully yourself. In the physiological world, the distinction between what yours and what isn’t falls in the realm of the immune system. Giving free flow to how you feel will improve your ability to stay strong in the face of disease.

Want to know the beautiful part of exploring my emotions? The more space and time I give them, the less afraid I become of them, the more confidence I have to say what I need to say, the more likely I am to express what I truly need. The repercussions of this on my life blossom continuously.

How do you move with and through your emotions? Which one gives you the hardest time? When you share in the comments, you open the possibilities for others.

Invite your friends to join this dance by using any (or all!) of these buttons.

 

PS I’ve started using Bach Flower Essences to help support myself and clients through the many movements of this dance. If you want to know more about them, contact me here.