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Digestive Health- How Worry and Anger Effect Digestion

Have you ever been in a situation when you were angry at someone who had done you wrong, perhaps behind your back, and you got a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? Have you ever felt nervous about an upcoming event and all of the sudden you have to run to the bathroom? Well these are just a couple of the many ways your emotions effect your digestive system.

Digestive health complaints are some of the most common conditions we treat in the clinic. Complaints often include one or more of the following: bloating, gas, pain, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue.

When we treat these complaints, we ask lots of questions to understand the signs and symptoms the patient is experiencing, but also to understand the patient’s constitution, lifestyle, and emotional states. We look at the patient’s tongue, take their blood pressure and take their Chinese Medicine pulse. With this information, we identify the pattern of disharmony and prescribe an acupuncture point prescription, and usually an herbal prescription.

But the treatment does not end there. Often there are constitutional, lifestyle and emotional factors that contribute to the digestive problem. Our job is to help the patient identify these factors and then help them figure out how to address the issues in their life.

So, lets focus today on the emotional component and its effect on digestion. There are some specific emotions that can have some significant impact on the digestive system:

  • Worry, Pensiveness or Overthinking – worry usually is all about things we cannot control. Overthinking can include brooding, constantly thinking about certain events or people (even if there is not worry) or focusing on the past. Pensiveness also includes excessing mental work such as in ones work or study. This worry or overthinking stimulates the sympathetic nervous system (the flight or fight part) at the expense of the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest part). From a Chinese Medicine perspective, this is described as stagnation in the middle leading to poor digestion and a feeling of distension (bloating). Overthinking consumes energy in the body, leaving less energy that what is needed for proper digestion. Digestion slows, food is not broken down enough and nutrients are not absorbed which further contributes to low energy and poor digestion. No wonder your digestive system is a mess and does not function properly, it is not getting blood flow and nervous system attention due to the worry or overthinking.

  • Anger and its other forms: Irritability, Frustration, Resentment, Repressed Anger – I think we can all recognize these emotions. Repressed anger is that which is avoided and not fully expressed. Some people think that anger is kind of ugly, so they try to ignore it, or stuff it inside. From the Chinese Medicine perspective anger causes the bodies energy to be stuck, and again, there is a lack of blood flow and nervous system attention to the digestive system. The result of anger is often upper GI symptoms like acid reflux or feeling like something is stuck in your throat. Irritability and frustration often have an effect on the lower GI tract in the from of constipation, diarrhea or the very fun combination of alternating constipation and diarrhea.

It is important for you to learn how to do an emotional check. If you're worrying or overthinking, the first step is simply to become more aware of when this happens, and what might trigger it. The second is to work towards shifting your mind set. It does not pay to worry or overthink something that is not under your control. It is not necessarily easy to change your mindset, but overtime, you will notice a difference. Often worrying or overthinking is learned behavior which is good news, because it means you can unlearn it with deliberate practice and time.

If you are angry a lot, take a look at what is making you angry or irritated, and address it. It often relates back to uncommunicated or unrealistic expectations so try starting by examining how

your expectations are not being met or fulfilled and how you might be able to change them or communicate them better. If you have repressed anger, it may be time to work through it. It also may be helpful to work with a licensed therapist.

We want you to get better. With an customized acupuncture and herb prescription, along with addressing lifestyle and emotions, you will be on the road to a happy healthy digestive system.

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