For many people anxiety and stress go hand in hand with a tense stomach and disturbed digestion. Whilst stress affects digestion in everyone, some people are particularly prone to experiencing problems. All digestive issues, from gas to inflammatory bowel conditions are affected by stress, even if there are many other contributing factors.
Our digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is linked to the central nervous system by millions of nerves. When we are stressed we enter the ‘fight or flight’ response which priorities blood flow to the brain and muscles in case we have to run from or outwit a possible danger. This is, of course, useful in situations where there is a real threat but for many of us, our constant deadlines, hectic schedules and million and one expectations lead to a chronic state of stress in which the blood flow to the digestive organs is seriously impaired. Stress causes everything to contract and constrict and can therefore affect the production of digestive juices, cause the stomach and or intestines to spasm, create inflammation and encourage infection. When stress becomes chronic, so do digestive problems.
Goethe believed that the gut was the centre of all human emotions. When I used to practice as a massage therapist I would always ask people first if they wanted me to massage their stomach as many people dislike being touched in this area. I can notice this in myself too, if I am feeling anxious at all then my stomach feels far to sensitive to touch. This is because the nerves are all activated, leaving us with sensations such as ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or that awful knot of fear in our solar plexus.
There are many herbs that work on the interface between the nerves and the digestion- Chamomile, Cardamom, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm and other Mints to name just a few. All these are aromatic, therefore diffuse stuck energy and tension at the same time as stimulating digestion. A calming cup of chamomile tea, taken 2 or 3 times a day, is a great way to gently soothe your nerves and digestion. Specific conditions will need individualised treatment but for those who suffer more general digestive disturbances related to stress these herbs can be very useful.
At the moment, everyone I am seeing has some level of stress related digestive disturbance, even if that is not the primary reason they are seeking treatment. Recently I saw someone who was so tense that their appetite had disappeared almost completely, a sure sign that the digestive organs are very constricted. I came up with this tummy rub as a way of not only relaxing the digestive system but also encouraging people to take a few moments in their hectic schedule to be fully present with themselves, take some deep breaths and become mindful of their state of being. It’s easy to gulp down a tincture or tea on your way to work but you have to take a bit of time to massage your stomach and even if you feel like it’s an extra thing to do in the morning, once you have begun you cannot help but calm down a little.
When massaging the stomach, always move in deep rhythmic movements in a clockwise direction (as if the clock were on your abdomen rather than facing you!) as this is the way the intestines move waste along. Take a moment to breathe deeply and become a little more mindful of yourself and the present moment. This need only take a few minutes but that can be enough to relax the digestion, the nervous system and the mind.
Soothing Tummy Rub:
50ml base oil (almond, sunflower, apricot etc)
10 drops Neroli essential oil
5 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
5 drops Cardamom essential oil
This makes a blend of approximately 2%, perfect for adults and children over 12. For children between 4 and 12, halve the amount of essential oils and for babies to 4 year olds use 5 drops chamomile only to make a 0.5% blend or stick to chamomile infused oil instead. You could also make it into a salve or balm (see my previous post) if that is your preference.
Chamomile is a fabulous essential oil for calming the nerves and soothing digestion, helping to expel bloating, flatulence and gas. Cardamom is warming, carminative and antispasmodic and also has a relaxing and uplifting effect on the nerves. Neroli is one of the best essential oils for the nervous system being deeply relaxing and uplifting. It’s also good for promoting flow of digestive juices. All three are considered children’s oils as they are safe, supportive, caring and calming.
I’ve had very positive feedback from those trialling the oil so far and I encourage those of you who also suffer from a tense stomach to give it a go too. The perfect way to soothe, nurture and let go.