Stress as a factor for the development of gastrointestinal diseases

stressStudies show that from 35% to 70% of the world’s population is affected by functional gastrointestinal disorders.

Many factors make a person more susceptible to developing a functional gastrointestinal disorder. These factors are biological, social, and psychological in nature. However, a vast number of studies show that stress might play a particularly important role. The relationship between gastrointestinal disorders and psychological stress is bidirectional and complex. Stress can aggravate or trigger various symptoms, which might cause pain and discomfort to the patient. On the other hand pain itself causes a lot of stress for the patient, which creates a cycle. This is the reason why psychological therapy is often used as an addition to the treatment of functional gastrointestinal disorders.

The importance of dealing with stress in order to avoid gastrointestinal diseases

A number of chronic gastrointestinal disorders have been shown to have a connection with stress, including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and functional gastrointestinal disorders. A few well-designed surveys have shown that people that went through acute life threatening episodes, including victims of rape, natural disasters, mugging, etc., are much more likely to develop a functional gastrointestinal disorder.

For instance, in a study conducted by Ehlert U., Mayer C., and Suarez K., the goal was to find a correlation between chronic stress and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGID). This study found a strong positive correlation between the number and intensity of FGID and the levels of perceived chronic stress, use of maladaptive coping strategies, and dispositional stress reactivity.

Stress management and how to prevent stress

Stress prevention is a complicated issue and should be separated into a number of steps.

First, you have to identify the sources of your stress

It might not be as easy as it sounds, since the real sources may be hidden deep within, and you might not realize them. For example, you might think that you’re constantly stressed out due to deadlines. But the real source of your stress is your procrastination.

Thus, you will not be able to control your stress levels until you accept that you play a role in maintaining or creating your stress.

Second, you have to realize how you cope with stress

Is your coping method productive or is it unhealthy? For example, unhealthy methods of coping with stress include smoking, using drugs to relax, overeating, drinking too much, procrastinating, sleeping too much, keeping yourself constantly busy to avoid facing your problems, spending hours in front of a computer or TV, withdrawing from all activity, family, and friends.

Find methods of coping that are contributing to your physical and emotional health. Since everyone is different, there is no miracle method for coping with stress. Some people read psychology or meditate, other people play active sports and socialize; the method of productive coping depends on your own personality.

Third, you should avoid unnecessary stress

It is true that some stress cannot be avoided. However, you will be surprised at how much stress we create for ourselves willingly.

Learn to say “no” – Biting off more than you can chew is always a bad habit. If you’re at your limit, learn to say “no,” no matter if you’re dealing with personal or professional situations.

Avoid people that cause you stress – We often find ourselves spending time with people we don’t like and that cause us a great deal of stress and/or pain. Just like it is silly to eat rotten food, it is as silly to spend time with people that cause you grief.

Control your environment – For example, if watching news stresses you out – don’t do it. If you become stressed when you go to the store, you can easily shop online for pretty much everything.

Avoid hot-button topics – For instance, if your hot topics are religion or politics, simply don’t talk about them. If you constantly argue with the same people about a single subject, just excuse yourself when it is brought up again.

Fourth, if there is no way to avoid a stressful situation, sometimes all you need to do is to alter your reaction to it

stress managementRather than bottling up your feelings – express them. Voice your concerns if someone is bothering you. Do it in a respectful and open way and no one’s feeling will be hurt. It is very important to avoid blaming the other person. What you have to do is to tell the person what are your feelings as a reaction to their actions. This technique works well with people that care about you and do not want to hurt your feelings.

Be willing to compromise. If you’re asking someone to change the way they behave toward you, be willing to do the same for them. When you are both willing to compromise, you will have a greater chance of finding a middle ground which will satisfy both of you.

Be more assertive. It may be hard for some people, but in order to deal with some stressful situations, you have to take them head on, trying to anticipate and possibly prevent them.

Learn to manage your time. Quite often, poor time management causes a great deal of stress. It is nearly impossible to stay calm and focused when you’re constantly hurrying and missing one deadline after the other. Do not overexert yourself, know your limits and plan accordingly.

Fifth, you have to adapt to your stressor

If there is no way to change the stressor, all you can do is change yourself and your view of it. Regain control over the situation by changing your attitude and expectations.

Reframe your problems. Almost every situation in your life can be viewed from a more positive perspective. Don’t do it halfheartedly! Commit to viewing everything that is happening to you in a brighter way. If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, view it as an opportunity to listen to your favorite music or an audiobook.

Look at the bigger picture. Every time you encounter a problem, you have to step back and see a broader picture. Will this problem matter in a week, a month, a year? Is it really that important that you need to be upset about it? Focus your energy elsewhere if the answer is “no.”

Adjust your standards. Some people are perfectionists and it causes them a great deal of stress. Things are not black and white. If something wasn’t done perfectly, it is definitely not a failure. Leaving some things (unless you’re a nuclear engineer) at “good enough” is OK.

Focus on the positive. From time to time, remember everything that is good in your life. Appreciate what you have. Remind yourself over and over again of how fortunate you are to have this or that. It is in our nature to only focus on the negative things. You have to make a conscious effort to keep on shifting your attention to all the positive things that surround you.

Finally, you need to accept the things that you cannot change

There are some things in our life that are unavoidable, such as a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, or a national recession. Therefore, in such cases, the best thing to do is accept things the way they are.

Stop trying to control the uncontrollable. We often try to control something which is beyond our power – particularly the behavior of people that are close to us. You have to realize that people do not change, and if you think that they’ve changed, you didn’t know them well in the first place. Character is a very stable trait and can only be slightly corrected. Do you get mad at the rain for making you wet? No, you bring an umbrella with you. People are similar, they cannot change who and what they are, and you just have to adapt to their behavior, or if you cannot do so, cross them out of your life.

This is probably one of the biggest sources of stress which people encounter in their everyday life. Understand that people are completely different, with unimaginably different points of view, values, morals, and logic. When you understand that people are like elements of nature and cannot help acting the way they do, you will be able to be more content with your life, have happier, more meaningful relationships, and leave by your side only those people that bring you happiness.