The Stress Of The Holidays: Can Stress Cause Stomach Pain and Bloating?

How Holiday Stress Could Be Causing Your Seasonal Bloating

Pumpkin pies are being prepped, Thanksgiving plans are being made, and holiday shopping has begun—the holiday season is officially here! 

With one holiday after another, shopping lists growing daily, family in town, and driving in the snowy and rainy weather, there’s no doubt that the holidays are filled with fun and stress. Yes, families can be stressful and so can financial situations and lists full of this and that, but many of the things we put into our bodies during the holidays are stressors too.

Grandma’s recipes, our favorite baked goods, and that nice bottle of wine you’ve been waiting to open are likely high in sugar, processed ingredients, and gut-busting chemicals that can lead to stress, inflammation, and feeling bloated during the holidays. 

The holidays are supposed to be one of the most cozy, festive, and enjoyable times of the year, so don’t let that unwanted holiday belly bloat ruin the fun. Let’s talk about how you can manage those holiday stressors to keep your gut healthy and bloat-free this season.

 

Common Holiday Stressors

Stressors are stimuli in the body that can throw off the body’s homeostasis, or natural balance. When you think of stress, work, family, and finances might come to mind. Although these are some of the most common examples of life’s psychological stressors, stress can be caused by more than just life’s daily hurdles. Are you in tune with everything else that could be causing stress, inflammation, and poor gut health?

During the holidays, stress is often at an all-time high, so let’s understand where that stress could be originating from during the season.

Family Gatherings

It’s that time of year that extended family comes into town and gatherings full of quality time are planned. While family togetherness is a wonderful thing to be able to celebrate, it can certainly cause unwanted tension and stress.

Remember that the holidays are supposed to be magical and full of fun and company, but too much togetherness might be causing everyone to feel forced to spend time together. Balance out gatherings with alone time while the family’s in town this year.


Spending On Holiday Gifts

Finances are already a stressful topic for many people throughout the entire year—throw holiday gift-giving on top of that and you’re asking for a stress-filled season.

The temptation to overspend on travel and Christmas gifts can lead to present and future consequences. Debt can certainly cause stress on anyone, and dealing with that debt on top of holiday stress can lead to even more emotion. Try setting plans and budgets, and if money is tight, find other ways to give.

Can Stress Cause Stomach Pain and Bloating


Food and Drink Goodies

Christmas cookies from the neighbors, homemade spiked cider from your coworker, huge family meals—it’s often excess. For too many of us, overindulging is just something that comes along with the holidays, but the season is no excuse to eat an overabundance of sugar-filled desserts or go too heavy on the alcohol every night family is in town.

High-sugar foods cause inflammation and high hormone levels, which in response, causes stress. 

The same goes for alcohol. When drinking, the body produces an increased amount of hormones, leading to higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, and feelings of anxiety, all which cause stress-like symptoms.

 

How Stress Affects The Digestive System

Despite the magic of the season, there’s no question that our bodies take a bit of toll. In the midst of family plans, hectic shopping malls, pumpkin pie, and a drink or two, you may notice that you’re just not feeling quite right—cramping, abnormal changes in your appetite, irritability, trouble sleeping, and, of course, that holiday belly bloat. While cramping, bloating, and digestive troubles are certainly irritating and uncomfortable, there’s more going on in your gut that could have long term effects. 

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes—exams at school, sick kids, acute stress, chronic stress,  the classic “worry warts”, and oxidative stress.


What Is Oxidative Stress?
Oxidative stress is a common type of stress during the holiday season. Oxidative stress happens when the body finds that it has an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are molecules that arise as byproducts of the body’s metabolic process.
Oxidative stress and bloat come around during the holidays often due to the lack of nutritious food choices while celebrating the season, and the unhealthy vegetable oils that we’re bound to find in grandma’s famous recipes. 
The effects of oxidative stress can certainly put a damper on the holiday spirit. We often see conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and inflammation linked to oxidative stress. 
Keep your diet low in processed sugars and high in antioxidants to avoid that holiday oxidative stress and bloat.

 

Stress can cause trouble to just about every system in your body, including your digestive system. When the body is stressed, chemicals are released in the brain, adrenal glands, and the lining of the gut. The release of these chemicals have a strong influence on the bacteria in the gut, causing signals to change gut motility and impact digestion.

Any stressor or change in gut motility can cause an imbalance in gut bacteria, improper function of microbiota, a decrease in blood flow and oxygen, and can trigger inflammation. When these symptoms occur, the gut becomes stressed too and cannot properly do its many important jobs properly: efficient digestion, absorption of nutrients, proper brain function, stable mood, and strong immunity.

If stressors continue to impact the body over time, there can be serious long term effects of stress on the digestive system. Regular stress can further develop existing problems into gut problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 

That’s why it’s so important to manage the stressors in your life and make sure seasonal stress doesn’t produce long term issues.

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Keep Your Gut Holly Jolly

While there are plenty of excuses to stress during the holidays, let’s make a pact to tackle our stressors head on this year and make our health a priority.

Here are some tips to avoid stress and that holiday belly bloat this year:


1. Be Smart About Holiday Eating

While that extra piece of pumpkin pie and that second helping of jello salad might sound like a treat, you won’t feel the same way when your plate is empty after the fact. Don’t let the temptation of dessert after dessert get to you, keep your health and your gut in mind.

Try your best to plan ahead when it comes to holiday meals, whether that means creating a healthy dinner menu and inviting the family over or incorporating healthy foods into your dinner while out and about. 

Pay attention to what you’re putting into your body and how it’s making you feel. If you feel the belly bloat coming on, recognize the foods that trigger inflammation. And always be mindful of including the nutrients your gut needs to be happy and healthy.

 

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2. Set Holiday Priorities

Before becoming overwhelmed by traveling, buying gifts, stuffing stockings, wrapping presents, sticking to traditions, and finding time to make an appetizer for this weekend’s holiday party, sit down and set priorities. 

What activities do you enjoy? And which ones have to be done? Figure out what’s important this year and what comes as a second priority. 

If you’re feeling stressed, refer back to your list and remember that the holidays are about joy and togetherness—don’t let having to bring a store-bought appetizer to a dinner party get to you.


3. Breathe

It might sound like a no-brainer, but amongst the chaos sometimes we forget to stop and just breathe. Taking a moment to ground yourself and give your body and mind the time and deep breath it needs can sometimes do the trick.

You could even try a new breathing meditation and see how you like it. Or take a step outside during family dinner for a moment to yourself. No matter what your favorite way to breathe out the stress is, your body will thank you.


4. Do Something YOU Enjoy

Has the season’s chaos infringed on your daily exercise or your morning relaxation routine? If you’re not making yourself a priority and doing the things you enjoy, stress is sure to creep into your life this season. 

Try going on an afternoon hike instead of forcing yourself to participate in another trip to the mall. Or take your family out to your favorite tea spot. Make time for what you love to do and create balance—this will ultimately make you happier, increase your mood, and keep your family members and coworkers happy to be around you too.


5. Set Expectations And Boundaries

Just because it’s the season for family and gift-giving does not mean that you get to let go of any limitations you’ve set financially and for your own health. 

Set a limit on the time you’ll spend at any upcoming gatherings, one that allows you to spend time with your family and friends and enjoy yourself without feeling drained. Then stick to that time. If you tell yourself that you’ll be home by 9:00pm so you can get proper rest, stay loyal to the boundaries you’ve set.

Also, don’t allow yourself to go over the top when it comes to spending. Instead, spend what you can and then find other ways to give that don’t have to do with money. For example, serve dinner at the homeless shelter or take your nephew to the park for a game of flag football.


6. Leave The Candy Out Of This Year’s Stockings

Now that we know processed sweets and preservative-packed appetizers are only bloating the bellies of us and our guests, we are able to help with everyone’s gut health. Make healthy choices when you have the opportunity to contribute food and drinks.

Create a side dish for Christmas dinner that’s loaded with prebiotic ingredients to keep everyone’s guts smiling. Substitute the vegetable oil in your family recipe for coconut oil. Or choose to put healthy snacks like Rowdy Bars in stockings this year in place of candy. 

There are plenty of ways to make holiday classics stress-free and delicious. Experiment with what you love and give them a try!

Can Stress Cause Stomach Pain and Bloating

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