I've never been able to eat before a stressful activity like public speaking or a live TV hit. I'd never be hungry and if I did try I'd just get indigestion. I used to think it was something only a few of us 'sensitive' types experienced, but it turns out stress shuts down digestion for everyone! It's a genius evolutionary mechanism that's helped our species survive.
But things are a lot different now than they used to be during our hunter and gatherer days. Not many of us are running away from tigers or bears these days. Our stress is caused by non life-threatening events like traffic, bank accounts and bosses and that kind of stress is happening all the time. It's chronic and it's seriously affecting our digestion. I'll tell you why:
In a nutshell; stress and digestion don't play in the same sandbox.
Stress activates a certain part of your nervous system (called the sympathetic nervous system) -- you may have heard of it referred to as our 'fight or flight' response.
This was a good thing in prehistoric days when we needed to run from big, bad beasts. The stress response gave us an immediate rush of energy to the muscles to run away -- but, in order to have that energy available to muscles, we had to take it away from our digestive process. Makes sense. We only have so many resources to get the job done. It obviously worked well for us.
But since stress is a result of our perception of any given circumstance, we can feel stressed about lots of things. Even if you're not feeling intensely stressed ahead of a meeting, a speech, or break up...you can still be wired into your sympathetic nervous system. Just the act of being buried in paperwork, focused on your computer screen or eating in your car on the go is a stress.
In order for digestion to work properly, we need to activate our parasympathetic nervous system (commonly called our 'rest and digest' mode) by relaxing.
It seems like a simple concept, but given that most of us have come to pride ourselves on our multi-tasking abilities (who hasn't eaten dinner in front of the TV whilst checking into twitter?) switching "off" isn't easy, but it's better for your digestion.
Like you, I don't always have the time to sit at a table in a calm setting and eat with company whom I adore; that would be ideal. So when a serene mealtime escapes you, there is one simple thing you can do before digging in...take a breath.
Actually, take a few, deep, slow breathes before putting food in your mouth. This can help stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system into action and turn ON digestion, which can do wonders for your health in the long run.
Do you eat when you're stressed? Or do you have a great tip for relaxing when eating? I'd love to hear from you! Let's continue the conversation in the comments below or, head over to my website and we can chat some more there!