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Listen to Your Gut

Published 2019-03-16

Listen to Your GutFor most of us, this is a familiar maxim, usually issued in response to a request for advice from a trusted friend or loved one. There’s good reason for this: our intuition, or “gut” in this case, can generally be relied upon to steer you in the right direction as it is generally accepted as our higher self, or our soul. I say generally because it can often be difficult to decipher between guidance from our intuition or from our ego. Learning to distinguish the difference requires listening to, knowing and trusting yourself.

But what about our physical gut? The gut, or gastrointestinal tract, is a system made up of several organs all involved in the breakdown and absorption of food. Lifestyle, genetics, illness and medications can all impact how well this system functions. Today, however, I want to focus on the role stress plays in the body, and specifically, the gut.

The gastrointestinal system is especially influenced by stress. When we are worried, anxious, or threatened, a message is sent to the brain’s stress response system which then affects the body, by sending us into “flight or fight” which in turn causes the body to release cortisol to help us face whatever threat is heading our way. When this happens, many physiological reactions can occur ranging from diarrhea, constipation, pain and cramping, esophageal spasms, indigestion resulting from an increase in acid, and nausea. In the ideal situation, once the perceived threat is over, the body calms down and all is well again until the next tiger or dragon appears. However, for some, the body is in a chronic flight or fight pattern leading to more serious complications including inflammation, GERD, IBS, IBD, ulcers, and an imbalance in gut bacteria. This is what happened to me. I carried on for years in a career I was ill-suited for, juggling the demands of my heart and soul with the demands of a business that grew disproportionately to the level of skill and money management tools I possessed at the time. Trying to always stay one step ahead of the trends, the bill collectors, and possible failures lurking around every corner had me in a constant state of fantasizing about running away or exploding (flight or fight). The signs that I needed to listen to my gut and change course were all there: I had heartburn pretty much all day, every day and I’ll spare you the bathroom deets, but suffice it to say, it wasn’t normal. I had terrible pain in my stomach most days as well. Finally, I ended up with an ulcer, a hiatal hernia, GERD, and an intestinal infection that required hospitalization and an emergency surgery.

My hope is that you will pay attention to the messages both your intuitive gut AND your physical gut are sending you. Learn to listen to your body, trust what its saying, and manage stress like it’s your job, because it really is. I now have a team of trained specialists in gastroenterology and have begun to repair and rebuild my digestion with short term medication and supplements like glutamine, digestive enzymes and probiotics. I also meditate daily and practice mindfulness to connect my mind, body & spirit. And while I can’t say I’ve slain the last dragon, I’ve definitely got him by the tail.  

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