how emotions affect digestion

Are the holidays affecting your gut? How your emotions affect digestion

The holidays are upon us! Are the holidays a festive time for you or are those festivities mixed with a little stress?  With less daylight during this season, we should be spending time inward, peacefully snuggled up at home with a good book by the fire.  However the holidays call us out of our nest to attend parties and family gatherings and into stores with too many other people. It’s a disconnect from nature and no wonder we may feel a little off, particularly with digestion.  I sometimes see my client’s digestive progress go wayward during the holiday season.

Why is this?  Let’s remember that the gut and brain are intricately connected. The old adage of having a “gut feeling” about a decision or situation is spot on. There’s a super highway of nerves connecting your brain to your gut. Information (and inflammation) travels both ways — what’s happening in your gut affects your mood and what’s happening to your mood affects your digestion.

Let’s look at the emotional analogies of each digestive organ and symptom.  If these areas of your digestive tract are acting up without a logical explanation, try looking at the emotional aspect.

Mouth – Ever bite off more than you can chew, such as an over commitment to holiday shopping or baking?  I have!  Do you tend to ruminate on things too long, over-chew or over-process something? How about on the positive side — have you found a new project that you can’t wait to sink your teeth into?

Hunger and cravings can relate to many emotions. What are you hungry for — adventure, love, contentment? Without these fulfillments we may overeat and the holidays can trigger what you’re really longing for. When life is too full or you’re overcommitted there may be no room in your day for an appetite or the thought of another task makes you nauseous.

Esophagus – related to GERD or heartburn – Have you been soured by someone or something? Have you been burned by someone you love? Have you accepted (or swallowed) a new concept or situation too quickly, without chewing on it enough, only to have it pop back up on you later causing sour feelings?

Stomach – related to nausea (and sometimes GERD) – Are you able to stomach tough conversations? Say during a political discussion at the holiday dinner table?! Can you stay centered or do you feel sick to your stomach?

Small Intestine- related to SIBO, celiac & food sensitivities – The small intestine’s function is to sort nutrients from food and absorb them. It’s also about boundaries (leaky gut is a breach of that barrier which can cause food sensitivities). This can relate to a lot of emotional situations such as creating and holding to your boundaries. During discussions can you sort out the important information or do you easily get confused or misinterpret? Can you absorb the learning opportunities from a stressful situation? Can you maintain your boundaries through a tough situation?

Large Intestine – related to constipation or diarrhea – In the large intestine the remaining 10% of nutrients are absorbed plus water. The speed which food moves through will dictate a regular bowel movement, constipation (too slow) or diarrhea (too fast). This too can relate to our feelings. Are you holding on to something for too long without moving forward (constipation)? Or do you let go or move on too quickly without reflecting, learning, or digesting enough info (diarrhea)? Do you struggle with taking a stand or a solid opinion (diarrhea)? Or do you hold on to your position too rigidly without movement and flexibility (constipation)?

Digestive Process – digestion (and life) is about biting off the right-sized piece of food or information/ project, chewing or processing it, sorting those parts into useable nutrients or lessons, absorbing it as nourishment and making a solid plan of action while eliminating the waste, all to allow your growth and betterment. When you ruminate on something too long or stall a process, the digestive system may move too slow or cause some regurgitation.

Some food for thought this holiday season: take a unique approach to your digestion by looking at your emotions.When a stomachache, GERD or constipation arise, take pause and tune into your emotions. Try journaling or meditating on it. Be sure to accept the emotion without judgment. Take note if the symptom passes by acknowledging the emotion. Many times some simple awareness can help shift the feeling — and the stomachache.

Happy Holidays!


Disclaimer: Nutrition therapy is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, or as a substitute for medical care. Jen Marshall and Stacy St Germain are not licensed medical providers. Nutrition plans are not intended as a substitution for traditional medical care, nor should be interpreted as medical advice, but instead is an adjunctive and supportive therapy.