The brain-body connection means that what goes on in one affects the other. For example, when you experience the pain of a broken bone, your mental health is affected. You may experience a range of related emotions from anger to sadness. Additionally, something like excessive sweating may cause embarrassment, shame or other emotional responses. Your emotional status is partially based on information from your senses about your physical condition.
Mental health also can initiate physical responses. When you feel extremely sad, your eyes tear up, and you cry. Excitement may cause you to speak in a higher tone of voice and open your eyes wider. Depression and anxiety, two similar mental states, often trigger physical symptoms like fatigue or headaches. They can even cause muscle and joint pains or digestive issues.
Mental Health and Digestive Disorders
The relationship between your brain and digestive system is facilitated by nerves and brain chemicals. Depression and anxiety change the balance of those messenger brain chemicals and throw your system into turmoil. Your brain starts to receive erroneous sensory perceptions and sends signals that affect your physical functioning.
Your natural reaction to stress includes diverting blood flow to muscles that might be needed to fight your way out of a crisis. Blood supply for non-emergency tasks like digestion is reduced, and energy is channeled to physical areas where it could be needed. Your blood also thickens slightly to prepare for possible injury.
When you are under stress, your brain releases chemicals to alert your immune system to possible infection. Those chemicals cause inflammation that would fight an intruding bacteria or virus, and the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut affects your ability to fight off disease.
Poor mental health can put you in a constant state of stress. Prolonged inflammation changes the chemical environment in your digestive system, and this can lead to issues like irritable bowel syndrome, nausea and diarrhea. Along with constipation and bloating, these are the most common digestive issues associated with depression.
Your gut produces 80% of the serotonin in your body. If your digestive system is not functioning optimally, you may not be getting enough serotonin to avoid depression or even to resolve it. Also, with an improper balance of bacteria, your digestive system may be intolerant of certain foods like gluten and sugar. Eating such foods may result in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Common Digestive Issues
There are many medical reasons for digestive issues, but not all digestive problems can be associated with depression. The connection between the brain and the gut is strong, though, making the digestive system one of the most likely places to encounter physical symptoms of depression and other mental issues.
These are the most common effects of depression on your stomach:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) commonly co-occurs with depression or anxiety. Approximately 60% of people with IBS also have a mental health issue.
- Constipation is often related to an imbalance of the right bacteria in your gut. Eating foods that your body struggles to digest can exacerbate the situation. Constipation can be resolved with probiotics, and eliminating constipation can even help relieve depression symptoms.
- Nausea is also a gut problem that usually accompanies anxiety. It can be the result of a chemical imbalance and muscle tension. Both of these situations can be caused by a depression — affecting the brain’s communication with the digestive system.
- Stomach pain is a symptom that might appear occasionally with no physical causation. Instances of general stomach pain, mild or severe, can be associated with depression. It might be impossible to trace the chemical connection to a mental issue, but many early depression diagnoses start with an unexplained stomach pain.
Depression and stomach pain are often related, their causes intertwined. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell which came first. For patients suffering from depression and a digestive issue, the most important point is to find a resolution to both. Depression is not necessarily all in your stomach, but resolving the stomach pain can have a positive effect on your mental health, and vice versa.
Physical Symptoms of Depression
Mental health disorders can be associated with a variety of physical symptoms. Sometimes an emotional disorder causes physical dysfunction, and in other cases, the physical condition precipitates a mental disorder. There is no such thing as separate physical and mental symptoms. They are generally related in some way.
If you experience chronic digestive issues, it is a good idea to consult a specialist for a proper diagnosis. You may need to include the opinion of a mental health professional along with that of your medical doctor to get an accurate picture of what is causing your symptoms and how best to resolve them.