Stress Belly | What is a Stressed Belly and How to Lose It!
Have you ever noticed that when you are under times of significant stress, your stomach seems to pay the price. You feel bloated and your pants fit tighter. Your diet has not changed and once the stressful situation has subsided, your stomach returns to normal and the bloating seems to magically disappear. Unfortunately, for many women stress belly has become a common occurrence they cannot seem to shake. What’s worse is that each time their stressed belly hits it seems to stick around longer and longer, especially once you are over 40. In this article, I am going to walk you through what is stress belly or what is sometimes called stressed belly, why it happens, and what you can do to fix it once and for all!
What is stress belly?
Recently one of my online fitness coaching clients emailed asking the following question… “I notice that whenever there is a lot of stress in my life, I seem to get very thick in the middle. My waist is nonexistent and even though you can see I have definition in my abs, they look bloated to me. Once the stressful period is over, my body goes back to normal. There must be a correlation between the stress and the puffiness. I haven’t researched this at all because I haven’t had time. I have had friends tell me this is true of older women. I am 61. Is stress belly a real thing? If so, do you have any tips for how I might be able to reduce these effects on my body (and mind).” Je’Anna from Texas
Given that I had received this question several times before, I decided to dive into the research on what is stress belly or a stressed belly.
While it is not truly a medical term or condition, stress belly is a term used for the stomach bloating a woman feels periodically. Bloating in general can have many causes, but stress is one of the most commonly correlated, especially for women over 40. When a woman’s body encounters stressful situations, be it personally or professionally, hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released. The release of this hormones can impact digestion and lead to a variety of gastrointestinal troubles. Bloating, indigestion, and stomach pain are among those symptoms.
Research supports the stress belly or stressed belly hypothesis. In fact, a study published in 2010 in Psychosomatic Medicine Journal reported that women had increased bloating and stomach irritation at times when their stress levels were elevated. Additionally, it was noted that food moved through their digestive systems at a slower rate, the rate of gastric emptying, during stress further making women feel full and bloated.
Further, an interesting research study was published in the BioMed Central Journal which followed 715 nursing students to understand the connection between their perceived stress levels and gastrointestinal symptoms like stress belly and bloating. That study found that high perceived stress shoulder be considers a risk factor for a stressed belly and those women who reported higher perceived stress were significantly more likely to complain of GI symptoms.
In 2015 with the journal Gastroenterology it was noted that increased stress in a woman’s life can change the balance of gut bacteria which can lead to ailments like gan, bloating, and stomach pain.
What does a stress belly feel like? What are the symptoms of a stressed belly?
For most women, stress belly feels like a serious fullness in the abdominal region that if often describes as an uncomfortably tight or swollen abdomen. Stress belly makes it hard to button your pants and makes clothing feel tight. Tina H., a 42 year old teacher from Cincinnati described stressed belly like this…”It is that disgusting feeling of pressure through your stomach that just makes you feel blah.” When asked what does a stress belly feel like for her, Veronica C., a 67 year old engineer from Oceanside told me, “when I experience a stress belly a get a dull ache, my bowels slow down, and I feel like I have been filled with helium.”
While it is a little different for each woman, the bottom line is that a stress belly is that bloated uncomfortable pressure that makes your stress even worse. What are the symptoms of a stress belly? Bloating, gas, pressure, and slower bowels are the most reported symptoms.
How do you get rid of a stress belly?
If you are experiencing a stress belly, there are several things you can do to get rid of a stress belly and feel better quickly.
- Do your best to chill with relaxation techniques: Since the stress you are feeling is affecting your stomach, practices that relax you and reduce your overall stress like meditating, doing yoga or stretching, and deep breathing exercises can be helpful. Gently stretching your core with movements like Upward Dog can help elongate your stomach and release some of the bloating.
- Drink up! Water can help reduce bloating by flushing out excess sodium so be sure you are staying hydrated.
- Slow your chew! If you want to lose stress belly, you will want to slow down as you are eating and make sure you are fully chewing your food. This can aid in digestion which tends to suffer when women are under stress.
- Watch the bubbles. Some foods cause your body to produce gas and can make stress belly worse! Avoid carbonated drinks as well as gas producing foods like cabbage, broccoli, and beans.
- Hit the gym! When you are feeling a stressed out belly coming on, make sure that you are being consistent with your workouts. Exercise not only crushes the stress that you are feeling giving you a healthy outlet, but it also helps with digestion and can keep things moving from a bowel perspective.
- Supplement in the right way. Adding in a probiotic which contains live bacteria or MultiEnzymes from Beverly International can promote digestive health and help when you are looking how to lose a stress belly.
- Hit the hay early. Lack of sleep does a number on your stress levels. If you want to lose your stress and feel better, aim for 7-9 hours of consistent sleep every night.
That said, if you continue to have stomach issues with it is important to seek medical advice and make sure that you do not have an underlying issue that needs to be addressed by your doctor.
What can stress do to a woman’s stomach?
Cortisol is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It plays a role in a number of bodily functions, including metabolism, immune system function, and the body’s response to stress.
When cortisol levels are high, it can affect a woman’s stomach in several ways. One of the primary effects of cortisol is to increase blood sugar levels, which can cause insulin resistance and lead to the development of type 2 diabetes. High cortisol levels can also cause the body to store fat in the abdominal area, which can lead to a condition known as visceral fat.
In addition to these effects, high cortisol levels can also cause digestive problems such as nausea, bloating, and indigestion. This is because cortisol can cause the muscles in the digestive tract to contract and slow down, which can lead to a buildup of gas and discomfort.
Furthermore, cortisol can weaken the immune system and make women more susceptible to gastrointestinal infections and disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
It is important for women to manage their stress levels and seek medical attention if they are experiencing digestive problems or other symptoms related to cortisol levels. A healthy diet, exercise, and stress-reducing techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can help to regulate cortisol levels and support digestive health.