Psychosomatic symptoms are commonly linked to digestive issues, and something I have experienced myself at different times throughout my life.
The term psychosomatic refers to real physical symptoms that arise from or are influenced by the mind and emotions rather than a specific organic cause in the body.
It’s what people really mean when they say “it’s all in your head”.
But, just because it stems from your mind and emotions, it doesn’t make the physical symptoms experienced any less real.
Digestive symptoms can often be psychosomatic, and it can be difficult to pick up on this, especially if you’re experiencing very real symptoms like having watery diarrhea, not going to the toilet for days on end, stabbing intestinal pain, or nausea that never seems to end.
The thing is, your symptoms are REAL, but the cause of them isn’t related directly to foods you’re eating or a structural issue inside your digestive tract. They come from your nervous system which is intrinsically linked to your digestive system.
So, how do you know if your digestive issues are psychosomatic?
Firstly, ALWAYS go to a Doctor first and have appropriate tests to rule out other causes. This is important, because so many digestive symptoms overlap with those of more serious disease.
Once you have done this, my next recommendation is to keep a very detailed journal that covers the following:
The foods you ate and how you feel afterwards. People with psychosomatic symptoms are more likely to not notice any specific food related patterns i.e. one day you may eat something and feel fine, but a few days after you may eat the exact same meal and feel terrible.
Your mood and stress levels each day. This will help you to spot any patterns that may coincide with these seemingly random symptoms.
Here are some examples that may suggest symptoms are psychosomatic:
Maybe your job is very stressful and every morning you wake up needing to rush to the bathroom over and over before leaving the door. But on the weekends this doesn’t seem to happen, or you go on holiday, and your symptoms disappear.
Maybe you lead a very busy life and are always on the go, taking care of the kids, eating when you can, usually in a rush. Then one night you decide to get a babysitter and enjoy a meal out, and even though you treated yourself to the biggest burger on the menu and dessert to follow, the symptoms don’t come. Yet, the salad you hovelled down earlier that day in between your endless daily tasks left you bloated and in pain.
You may be wondering what you can do now that you've identified your symptoms as psychosomatic.
The simple answer would be to just stop being stressed. But, unfortunately we can’t just run away from life and go live on a desert island. And for many people, this goes beyond simply being stressed, particularly if you're suffering from mental illness like anxiety disorders. So getting professional help for many is necessary to truly get this under control. But there are some things you can do to support your digestion while working on the deeper underlying issue.
Eat foods that are easier to digest. Avoiding wholegrains, nuts, seeds and uncooked veggies can be helpful during stress related flare-ups. Not because they are bad for you, simply because they require more effort from your digestive system to breakdown. Opt for white rice, lean proteins, sweet potato and other root veggies, broths and soups during stressful times.
Try taking a digestive enzyme before you eat. Stress has the ability to slow down digestion and reduce the output of pancreatic enzymes required to break down foods you eat. Digestive enzymes contain what you need to break down foods, and can be a great tool to help your digestion during acute phases of stress/anxiety. I recommend Enzymedica Digest Gold ATPro. If you’re located in NZ you can get a 15% discount through www.therastore.co.nz by using my code CHRYSTIE15 ( I receive a small amount of commission through this partnership). If you don’t live in NZ, you can order these from www.iherb.com.
Focus on calming your nervous system. My favourite way to do this is through breathing techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, which is proven to stimulate the Parasympathetic Nervous System, promoting ‘rest and digest’. Working with a breathing PT may be helpful, particularly if you notice you fall into the pattern on upper chest breathing when stressed.
If you're struggling with your digestion and pinpointing the cause, I am here to help. I specialise in helping people to identify the true cause of their digestive issues and putting a step-by-step plan in place to help you to take control again. If you're feeling lost and like nothing you're trying is helping, start by booking a free introductory consultation with me. It doesn't matter where you live, I work with people all over the world and have access to proven testing options and resources that will uncover the answers you've been searching for.
Book your FREE introductory consultation here.