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People may view abdominal pain and stress as separate issues, but the two often relate to each other through emotional and physical means. Anxiety produced from stress can interfere with the body’s nervous system and disrupt functioning in the stomach and intestines. Some people may even notice they suffer from stomach problems when undergoing difficult periods of stress.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
The intestinal nervous system works with neurons similar to brain chemicals found in the central nervous system, according to Harvard Health Publications 1. When food enters the digestive tract, neurons signal muscle cells to contract and continue the digestive process. Nerve cells in the digestive tract and central nervous system interact as food breaks down into nutrients and waste.
Why Does Deep Breathing Calm You Down?
Stress can interfere with the digestive process as people react to the fight-or-flight response, the reaction that causes people to flee or take on a stressful incident. Digestion slows or stops as the body focuses its energy on reacting to stress. Public speaking, taking an exam, attending an important meeting or other stressful events may disrupt the digestive process for some people, leading to gastrointestinal disorders or abdominal pain. An opposite effect can result in gastrointestinal problems causing anxiety and stress, Harvard Health notes 12. A cycle of abdominal pain and stress can compound problems for people undergoing prolonged stress.
- Stress can interfere with the digestive process as people react to the fight-or-flight response, the reaction that causes people to flee or take on a stressful incident.
Common physical symptoms related to stress and anxiety include gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, according to Health Central 2. Anxiety and depression can result in problems with the intestines or colon because of the connection between the digestive tract and the nervous system, leading to abdominal pain or cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Children and adolescents can experience frequent abdominal pain and other stomach problems from stress and anxiety, according to the medical website Up to Date 3. Parents who become overly concerned about their child’s pain can reinforce the problem because the child also becomes more anxious or worried. Paying more attention to the child’s school or other activities may eventually reduce the abdominal pain.
- Common physical symptoms related to stress and anxiety include gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, according to Health Central 2.
- Children and adolescents can experience frequent abdominal pain and other stomach problems from stress and anxiety, according to the medical website Up to Date 3.
What Is Existential Anxiety?
Various therapies help treat people with stress and can eventually relieve abdominal troubles. People with chronic anxiety caused by stress may benefit from psychotherapy. Therapists help patients readjust negative thinking and behavior so they focus more on positive thoughts and action. This helps people understand the reasons for their anxiety to overcome it and relieve physical symptoms.
- Various therapies help treat people with stress and can eventually relieve abdominal troubles.
- This helps people understand the reasons for their anxiety to overcome it and relieve physical symptoms.
Relaxation therapy plays an important role in reducing stress and abdominal problems, Harvard Health points out 1. Exercises include progressive muscle relaxation in which people tense a muscle or group of muscles for several seconds before releasing the tension and continuing with muscle groups throughout the body. Visualization helps people imagine peaceful places or thoughts to produce calming effects. The relaxation methods provide an emotional release from stress. Hypnosis, massage or just listening to music can help relieve stress.
- Relaxation therapy plays an important role in reducing stress and abdominal problems, Harvard Health points out 1.
- Hypnosis, massage or just listening to music can help relieve stress.
Why Does Deep Breathing Calm You Down?
What Is Existential Anxiety?
Ice Breaker Activities for Individual Counseling
CBT Exercises for Anxiety
List of Causes of Psychosocial Stress
How to Calm a Nervous Upset Stomach
Are IBS Symptoms Worse in the Morning?
How to Get Rid of Gas Pains in the Stomach
What Are the Causes of Anxiety From a Behavioral Perspective?
Causes of Intermittent Diarrhea & Gas
- Harvard Health Publications: Stress and the Sensitive Gut
- Health Central: Anxiety and Your Health -- IBS and IBD
- Up to Date: Patient Information: Chronic Abdominal Pain in Children and Adolescents
- Cleveland Clinic. Stress. Updated February 5, 2015.
- Goldstein DS. Adrenal responses to stress. Cell Mol Neurobiol. 2010;30(8):1433–1440. doi:10.1007/s10571-010-9606-9
- Stahl JE, Dossett ML, LaJoie AS, et al. Relaxation response and resiliency training and its effect on healthcare resource utilization [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2017 Feb 21;12 (2):e0172874]. PLoS One. 2015;10(10):e0140212. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0140212
- American Heart Association. Stress and Heart Health.
- Chi JS, Kloner RA. Stress and myocardial infarction. Heart. 2003;89(5):475–476. doi:10.1136/heart.89.5.475
- Salvagioni DAJ, Melanda FN, Mesas AE, González AD, Gabani FL, Andrade SM. Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS One. 2017;12(10):e0185781. Published 2017 Oct 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185781
- Bitonte RA, DeSanto DJ 2nd. Mandatory physical exercise for the prevention of mental illness in medical students. Ment Illn. 2014;6(2):5549. doi:10.4081/mi.2014.5549
- Ayala EE, Winseman JS, Johnsen RD, Mason HRC. U.S. medical students who engage in self-care report less stress and higher quality of life. BMC Med Educ. 2018;18(1):189. doi:10.1186/s12909-018-1296-x
- Richards KC, Campenni CE, Muse-Burke JL. Self-care and well-being in mental health professionals: The mediating effects of self-awareness and mindfulness. J Ment Health Couns. 2010;32(3):247. doi:10.17744/mehc.32.3.0n31v88304423806.
- American Psychological Association. 2015 Stress in America.
- Krantz DS, Whittaker KS, Sheps DS. Psychosocial risk factors for coronary heart disease: Pathophysiologic mechanisms. In R. Allan & J. Fisher, Heart and mind: The practice of cardiac psychology. American Psychological Association; 2011:91-113. doi:10.1037/13086-004
Jerry Shaw writes for Spice Marketing and LinkBlaze Marketing. His articles have appeared in Gannett and American Media Inc. publications. He is the author of "The Complete Guide to Trust and Estate Management" from Atlantic Publishing.