Psychosomatic Symptoms - is it really "all in your head"?

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 anxi