Stress + Your Gut

How supporting one supports the other

Strategies to Untie the Knots in Your Stomach

I don’t know about you, but the first thing that happens to me in times of stress is a big ol’ knot in my stomach. The stress I’m feeling emotionally manifests physically, and now I’ve got TWO problems instead of one! UGH.

Acknowledge your feelings

When we’re feeling stressed, our bodies respond due to the connection between the brain and the GI tract. Though you can’t change the feelings you’re having, you CAN change your thoughts and behaviors, which can have an indirect impact on the feelings you’re experiencing. Before that happens though, you need to get honest with yourself:

What are you feeling emotionally? Where are you feeling it physically?

After taking a moment to answer those questions in your head, out loud, or in a journal, you’re ready to tackle some new thoughts or new behaviors that just might help you shake the stress that’s got you feeling all the feels.   

Strategy #1: “This too shall pass”

Whatever you’re feeling, it isn’t permanent. Feelings are fluid and constantly changing. Focusing on how you will feel once the immediate feelings of stress or anxiety pass helps you to get there more quickly. Try journaling it out by writing down how you’re feeling in the moment, and how you expect to feel once it has passed.

“I’m feeling really anxious and my stomach is in knots, but when it passes I expect to feel calmer and have a relaxed feeling in my body.”

You can take it a step further by thinking or writing about how you will know when the feeling of stress/anxiety is starting to fade. What’s the first sign? For example, the first thing you might notice is that your breathing has slowed just a little bit. This strategy can help you keep your feelings in perspective, as intense as they might be in the moment.

Strategy #2: “Thanks, but I don’t need you right now”

Anxiety and stress have a place in our lives. They can help us kick ass at a moment’s notice when a real threat comes along. But the thing is, most of the ‘threats’ that we encounter aren’t real in the sense that we are not actually in danger. Our brains get tricked into thinking that the weird comment a coworker made or the fight we had with our boyfriend is the same as a cheetah running at us ready to devour our every limb. Biology is a strange, strange thing.

Fortunately, we can teach our anxiety how we want it to behave. If you start to feel stress building inside your mind and body, you can say (in your head or out loud): “Thanks, but I don’t need you right now.” By doing this, you take some power back and your anxiety has to back up a few steps.

To take it even further, you can engage in other behaviors that do NOT coincide with anxiety. For example, you can smile to yourself, hum a little tune, take some deep breaths, and stand tall with your shoulders down and chest proud. These actions tell our sympathetic nervous system to back the eff off and calm down. Even just knowing that you have this power can really give you a boost of confidence the next time you feel those butterflies or knots forming in your stomach.

Strategy #3: “What do I notice?”

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is a life saver because it’s easy to remember and possible to do in any environment. Practicing it when you’re not feeling stressed is a good way to familiarize yourself with the steps so that you can call on them when you need to channel your zen goddess self.

5: notice 5 things around you that you see. They could be objects, colors, or shapes.

4: notice 4 things around you that you can touch. They could be part of you or objects around you.

3: notice 3 things around you that you can hear. Start near to you and then expand your attention outward until you are able to pick up on a few sounds.

2: notice 2 things around you that you can smell. If nothing presents itself, walk nearby to find a scent like a candle, soap, or a pillow.

1: notice 1 thing around you that you can taste. It might be the taste in your mouth, or recalling the taste of your morning coffee and avocado toast. (Who doesn’t love a good avocado toast, amirite?)

By the time you’ve gotten through that list, you might notice that you feel a bit calmer and more grounded in the present moment. And bonus: you’ve taken a moment to explore and appreciate your surroundings, which can give you a boost of gratitude and joy.

Make your action plan

The truth is, everyone gets stressed at times. The way you compassionately help yourself move through those unpleasant feelings will allow you to bring your energy back to the things you love. So, the next time you’re feeling stressed out, what’s your plan? Which of these strategies will you try? Comment below, or shoot me an email to let me know how it’s going.

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