Stomach bloating is one of the fastest ways to ruin a good meal, a night on the town or a good night’s sleep. It’s something that is hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it yourself.
Have you ever had to unzip your pants in a nice restaurant to relieve the bloating pressure? This girl has, true story. In these instances, it’s often easy to identify the culprit, but when you suffer from stomach bloating and anxiety, the source may be less clear.
No matter the cause, it’s uncomfortable. However, being able to identify the root cause and knowing how to prevent bloating from occurring will save you many uncomfortable moments.
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What is Anxiety
Anxiety disorders are some of the most common forms of mental illness, affecting up to 30% of American adults at some point in their lives (4). Common symptoms of anxiety include, but are not limited to:
- Pervasive worry
- Heart palpitations
- Respiratory issues
Abdominal bloating is one of the less known symptoms of anxiety, as bloating is generally associated with digestive issues, constipation, and food intolerance.
Symptoms of Bloating
Bloating may affect everyone differently, however common signs and symptoms of bloating include, but are not limited to:
- Feeling of fullness in upper or lower abdomen
- Feeling of tightness in lower abdomen (your stomach may feel like a balloon)
- Clothes suddenly not fitting properly
- Feeling the need to eliminate gas but not being able to
Common Causes of Stomach Bloating
In her article, Perimenopause and Bloating: Causes and Remedies, Registered Dietitian Su-Nui Escobar writes “Perimenopause bloating can happen because of hormone fluctuations leading to water retention and changes in the digestive system.”. Escobar lists water retention, diet, and lifestyle as common culprits of bloating in perimenopause.
Constipation is one of the most common causes of bloating. Stool fermentation takes place in the colon; therefore, the longer fecal matter is in the colon, the more fermented it becomes and the more gas and stomach bloating it creates.
Digestive issues can cause significant abdominal pain from bloating. This can stem from eating too much, eating too fast or eating foods that are not well tolerated. Bloating and abdominal pain are two of the most common symptoms in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which has a prevalence of 4% to 22% of the general population (3).
The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that 5% of the U.S population, or about 1 in 20 people, suffer from IBS. Brain-gut dysfunction is one of several problems that can cause IBS. Brain–gut dysfunction occurs when there is a disconnect between the nerves of the gut and brain.
Gut Brain Connection
There’s no denying the connection between the gut and the brain, also known as the gut-brain-axis, a bidirectional pathway between the gastrointestinal tract and the brain. Gastrointestinal issues are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety. In other words, how you feel is not just in your head, it’s also in your stomach.
This article explains how maintaining a healthy and balanced microbiome is essential for optimal function of our central nervous system (CNS). The CNS can alter our mood, behavior, and stress response, either positively or negatively, depending on the health of our gut (2).
Stomach Bloating and Anxiety
You may be asking yourself, “So what comes first, the chicken or the egg?”, “the anxiety or the stomach bloating?”. While having stomach pain and bloating can certainly be concerning, it’s less likely to cause a significant amount of anxiety.
The opposite is true for anxiety, as we know that individuals are at higher risk of IBS if they have emotional stress, tension, or anxiety. Anxiety causes a “gut reaction” if you will. Anxiety can also create irregularities in breathing, such as hyperventilation, during anxiety or panic attacks. This breathing pattern may cause extra air to become trapped in your abdomen.
How to Naturally Reduce Stomach Bloating and Anxiety
If you believe your stomach bloating and anxiety are connected, try the following tips to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension.
Tip 1: Stress Management
Developing healthy coping mechanisms and becoming more resilient to stressors is imperative to your overall health. The type of coping mechanisms you choose will depend on what works for you as an individual, but some common methods include:
- Talking to a trusted friend
- Meditation or deep breathing techniques
- Herbal remedies that help rebalance your stress system
- Talking to a counselor or therapist
- Spending time outdoors walking or performing a moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes
Tip 2: Exercise
Exercise is beneficial for physical and mental health and has rejuvenating effects on brain development when it comes to mood, behavior, stress, anxiety, cognition, learning and memory.
Yoga has substantial antidepressant effects and a direct role in improving mood, serotonin, and dopamine. Meditation and breath work can be added to exercise routines for an added benefit.
Tip 3: Gut Health & Nutrition
Diet is one of the most significant, controllable influences on maintaining gut health. Consuming a diet rich in both probiotics and prebiotics has a potentially therapeutic effect against mood disorders, such as anxiety (1).
Probiotic are in fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, miso, kombucha, tempeh, kimchi, and various cheeses. Probiotics are commonly taken in supplement form.
Foods that are considered prebiotics include apples, green bananas, chia seeds, garlic, onions, artichokes, flaxseeds, wheat bran and leeks. Learn more about these foods in this recent Eat Love Gut Health post, The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics.
Additionally, Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean meat and limited in convenience, processed foods can go a long way in improving your mental wellness (2). A recent blog post explores the connection between food and mood in depth.
Tip 4: Swallow Less Air
As odd as it may seem, there are strategies you may want to try to keep you from swallowing excess air, which can lead to stomach bloating. The NIDDK recommends avoiding chewing gum and sucking on hard candy, eliminating carbonated beverages, not drinking through a straw, and taking more time to deliberately focus on enjoying your meal.
Remember, a healthy mind equals a healthy gut and vice versa. Unresolved emotional distress takes a toll on your body over time, often leading to anxiety and therefore gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach bloating. I challenge you to implement one or more of the tips above to improve your symptoms of anxiety related bloating.
The purpose of this information is to inform and empower the reader to make positive lifestyle changes. The intent is not to replace medical advice or instructions given by your doctor or healthcare provider.
Angela Lago is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and holds a Master’s of Science in Nutrition. She is passionate about researching the connection between gut health and mental wellness. Learn more about Angela’s journey from being depressed, anxious, and sleep deprived to being happy, healthy, and thriving!