We often think of stress as a mental state, something that our brains have to deal with when solving problems. But you also might have noticed how your neck creeps up to your ears, as if in some ancient memory, an attempt to protect that delicate appendage from the piercing teeth of a tiger. Our bodies respond to stress, and strong emotions like they’ve always done, the brain can trigger the release of stress hormones to the gut, readying the body for flight or fight. Extreme stress can release chemicals that produce an inflammatory reaction in the gut. This is good when we are running away from tigers, but not so good when stressing over traffic snarls and deadlines. Those chemicals can produce that familiar diarrhea cramp sensation we get when we are very nervous.
The gut possesses more neurons than the spinal cord of the central nervous system. Complex and intricate nerve connections in the tissue lining the visceral structures called neural plexus are what make up the Enteric Nervous System, or ‘Gut-Brain’. The gut is bathed in many of the same chemicals that the brain itself has- neurotransmitters (ie: Seratonin, Dopamine), proteins (neuropeptides), hormones and immune cells. The sophisticated Enteric Nervous System (ENS) can continue doing it’s own thing even without the brain!
There is an intermediary between these two brains of our bodies, called the 10th Cranial Nerve, or the Vagus Nerve, which can ‘turn the volume up’ on the communication, wherein the brain can send the echoes of strong emotions to the gut, and vice versa. About as long as our existence on Mother Earth, our guts have been a repository for a multitude of feelings, like fear, anger, motivation, self awareness, love…
Some organs have a stronger association with certain emotions and will receive some of the brain’s burden for ‘safe keeping’. For example, the stomach tends to be more of a ‘social stress’ keeper; the liver, a keeper of negative memories, fear; the gall bladder, anger; the kidneys, deep-seated fear and/or anger. The heart is the keeper of joy and happiness, but also of jealousy and distrust. Each of the visceral organs often share a bit of cross-over in their ‘emotional portfolios’. New understanding of our guts, not only its impressive nervous system, but also of the vast multitude of its inhabitants- the billions of bacteria- our ‘Microbiome’ is coming to the fore and revealing just how these microbes are also playing a part in our health, including our mental health.
Every individual person may have an organ that is more susceptible to these stressors than others, and health issues can manifest psychosomatically. Helping an organ back to health helps the whole organism (that’s you!) which can be aided by proper diet, therapy and self-care. When you go to the grocers to buy whole, healthy foods for yourself and your pets, don’t forget your other ‘pets’, those little microbes!(aka probiotics) The ones that are good for you like to feed on foods rich in inulin , found in leeks, garlic, and asparagus and artichokes. You can also just pick up a bottle of prebiotics.
Exercise is known to improve mood. One of the best forms of exercise that you’ll likely have a chance to do in the holiday season is dancing! Dancing is good for your balance and over all mobility, and great for improving your mood! And by ‘ improving your mood’ I don’t just mean watching poor Uncle Dan try that Hip Hop move for laughs! I mean break out your own dance shoes and learn a few steps! Salsa, Merengue, even Square Dancing.
Here is a great article by The University of Berkley on the health benefits of dancing.
When you’re not out dancing, you can also help your back and tummy by remaining conscious of your posture. Ease and free flowing movement don’t come from slumping in a chair or even holding ourselves upright and rigid, it comes from knowing how to ‘stack’ our bodies for efficient weight distribution. This is where you lean your head back from the monitor as you’re reading this!
This is another article by the same website about good posture. Also, try this:
– Stand tall and proud, like a child standing on a podium after winning a race!
– Spread your legs slightly more than hip width apart, then turn your feet a little outwards.
– Draw your belly up and in towards your spine ( make sure you don’t shrug your shoulders while doing this part!)
– Tilt your pelvis up forward (this should help your belly) and lift your breastbone up.
– Turn your hands so they are facing palm side up with your arms slightly away from your body.
– Hold this position for 10 seconds.
– Now repeat this sequence again. Only this time, don’t forget to BREATHE!
Wishing you all the best in your healthy endeavours,
Linda McLaren, RMT