The sad truth is that America has a stress problem
The 2019 "Stress in America" report from the American Psychological Association paints a troubling picture of growing stress in America (and this survey is from before the pandemic!) What's also worrisome is the generation with the highest self-reported stress levels was also the youngest one surveyed: Gen Z. More and more research has shown that stress doesn't just have an adverse effect on mental well-being, but it also manifests in negative physical symptoms. One of the most common symptoms of anxiety and stress is stomach pain. So what do you do to help mitigate stress and ease the stomach pain that comes with it?
Stress and the stomach
You've probably heard of "fight-or-flight" or the bodies automatic response to a perceived threat. But did you know your stomach is a part of that response? When experiencing stress, your body tells your stomach to slow digestion to preserve energy to face the threat (even if it's just a perceived threat like a big test or public speaking). All that slowing and changing of your digestion can lead to stomach pain. Scientists have learned a lot about the brain and central nervous system's link to the gut and how interconnected the health of the two are. These chemical interactions between brain and stomach are known as the "gut-brain axis" and explain why emotional and cognitive changes can have digestive impacts. This Harvard Health article explains it in a lot more detail.
There are a ton of different techniques to mitigate stress and I won't claim to be an expert but I'll share some of the methods that have helped me reduce stress and the stomach aches that go with it.
Meditation has many benefits but I've found it to be an excellent way to be more mindful and relaxed which does wonders for stress and anxiety. Deep breathing and relaxation techniques have near instant benefits when your fight-or-flight response is kicking it. And taking just 10-20 minutes to do an awareness or mindfulness meditation can really help you put your problems into perspective and calm those rapid, chaotic thoughts. My first exposure to meditation was around the time my stomach issues were at their worst. I was trying everything I could to feel better and ended up taking a class on meditation while also doing weekly acupuncture sessions. With acupuncture, once the needles go in (which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds), you're left to meditate for some time after. I can honestly say that combination of meditation and acupuncture left me feeling more content and calm than anything else I've experienced. I still regularly meditate today to get into a similar state of mind. It's also why I chose to associate the Laughing Buddha with Soov since meditation is a key aspect of Buddhism and has helped me so much over the years. He's also a symbol of contentment and happiness and reminds me of that feeling of tranquility that comes with a relaxed mind and calm stomach.
What you eat obviously plays a big role in how your stomach feels. Everyone is different but you could be sensitive to acidic foods, lactose, spiciness, fatty foods, gluten, processed foods, alcohol, all kinds of different things. But some foods actually can have a positive impact on your mental well-being via the "gut-brain axis" mentioned earlier. For example, foods with a lot of polyphenols, a chemical that occurs naturally in certain ingredients and plants, can have positive impacts on brain function and digestion. There's a big list of ingredients containing polyphenol as well as many of their other benefits in this Healthline article. It's a big part of why I chose ginger, lemon, mint, aloe, and chamomile for Soov. But polyphenols are in all kinds of common natural foods so I encourage you to check out the full list. Next, high-fiber foods not only can help keeps things moving through your digestive system but also contain prebiotics which is basically food for the good bacteria in your gut. Speaking of that good bacteria, some fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, naturally pickled vegetables, and kombucha contain live versions of that good bacteria known as probiotics. As far as food to avoid, I'd definitely recommend cutting down on alcohol and caffeine which might be a temporary fix but can lead to more anxiety long term.
Exercise boosts the production of the feel-good neurotransmitters called endorphins, reduces anxiety and depression, helps sleep, along with many other health benefits. Despite all the benefits, it's really hard to get started regularly exercising. Personally, I can't stand running on a treadmill or using an exercise bike. Sports are great but it's hard to find time and coordinate with others. So I went a long time without regular exercise and my stress levels and stomach paid the price. Eventually, I got a nice break when I started a new job that was a 30 minute walk from my apartment. That hour of walking a day made a big impact on my mood, health, stress levels, and stomach. Not everyone can walk to work, but I'd encourage you to try and find exercise that fits your schedule or existing routine. Is there a gym near your home or office? Sports clubs nearby? Any workouts you can do at home? Any regular errands you can walk to? If you're anything like me, if it isn't convenient it's probably not going to happen regularly.
If you're stressed you can get caught in a bad cycle of not being able to sleep while amplifying your stress by not getting the rest you need. Breaking that cycle can be incredibly hard. Doctors recommend getting 8 hours of sleep so here's a few tips that can hopefully help. Try to set a routine and a bed time so your body starts to recognize a pattern and when it's time for sleep. Gives your eyes a break from your phone or computer before sleeping and definitely try not use them in bed. Try to keep your bedroom a cool temperature. Finally, avoid alcohol and caffeine.