When was the last time you checked in with yourself, particularly when it came to your stress levels?

No matter the stressor, it’s important to consider the impact of stress on your health and well-being. After all, too much stress can take a mental and physical toll on your body — this includes wreaking havoc on your gut and digestion.

The effect stress has on your gut depends on the length of time you’re experiencing stress:

  • Short-term stress can cause you to
    lose your appetite and your digestion to slow down.
  • Long-term stress can trigger
    gastrointestinal (GI) issues, like constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, or an
    upset stomach.
  • Chronic stress over extended
    periods of time may lead to more serious issues, like irritable bowel syndrome
    and other GI disorders.

One of the keys to better digestion is regular stress management. Reducing stress can lower inflammation in the gut, ease GI distress, and keep you nourished, since your body can focus on absorbing the nutrients you need.

If you find your stress levels are affecting your digestion, below you’ll find four tips to help improve your gut.

To boost and support digestion, make sure you’re getting enough physical activity on a consistent basis, like walking and running.

Exercises like Hatha or Iyengar yoga, which focus on alignment and posture, may also alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms and improve stress outcomes.

Scientific research also suggests that a mindful meditation practice, where you develop an increased awareness of your daily life, may help.

Meditation along with deep breathing techniques may lower inflammation, a marker of stress in the body. In turn, this may relieve an overstressed digestive system.

Before your next meal, try sitting up straight away from distractions, and take 2 to 4 rounds of deep breathing. Breathing in for a 4-count, holding for 4, and exhaling for a 4-count.

Do this each time you sit down to enjoy a meal to help your body relax and get ready for digestion (i.e. rest and digest mode).

When it comes to your diet, reach for foods that promote good gut bacteria, like prebiotics and probiotics.

Fruits and vegetables with inulin, like asparagus, banana, garlic, and onions, contain prebiotics. Fermented foods, like kefir, kimchi, kombucha, natto, sauerkraut, tempeh, and yogurt all contain probiotics.

Prebiotics and probiotics can alter the bacteria makeup in the gut microbiome and create the ideal environment for more good bacteria to flourish and support digestion.

If you reach for a cigarette when your stress levels are on the rise, it’s time to rethink this coping technique.

Heart disease and respiratory diseases are most commonly associated with cigarette smoking but research also shows that the bad habit can affect your digestive system as well.

Smoking can increase your risk of developing peptic ulcers, GI diseases, and related cancers. If you smoke, consider making a plan and consulting your doctor or healthcare practitioner to help you cut back or give up smoking completely.

McKel Hill, MS, RD, is the founder ofNutrition Stripped, a healthy living website dedicated to optimizing the well-being of women all over the globe through recipes, nutrition advice, fitness, and more. Her cookbook, “Nutrition Stripped,” was a national best seller, and she’s been featured in Fitness Magazine and Women’s Health Magazine.