Stomach bloating is usually caused by excess gas clogging up the digestive system. It usually resolves itself but the problem can persist if it is a sign of a more serious condition. Widely reported culprits include an overindulgence of gassy foods, swallowing too much air and constipation. Popular remedies involve drinking plenty of fluids and cutting down on wind-inducing foods. However, it might come as a surprise that stress can also cause the stomach to swell.
According to the NHS, stress can disrupt the delicate balance of digestion.
It explained: “In some people stress slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain and constipation, while in others it speeds it up causing diarrhoea and frequent trips to the loo. Some people lose their appetite completely.”
Holland and Barrett added: “Our gut responds to modern stress the same way it responds to true danger.
“So while your gut is trying to process the meal you’ve just eaten, stress hormones mean your body is trying to divert blood away from the gut and into the muscles as part of the fight or flight response.
“The result? Bloating, indigestion, pain, nausea and maybe even IBS.”
It can also aggravate conditions like stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome – underlying causes of stomach bloating.
One solution is to avoid eating when you’re feeling very anxious, stressed or unhappy. When people are feeling intense pressure they tend to rush their food, upsetting the digestive system in the process.
It is also advisable to avoid arguing at the dinner table, said the NHS. Anger can also disrupt the normal eating routine, which can play havoc to the digestive system. Eating lunch away from the desk at work may also help to ease symptoms.
In addition, relaxation techniques have also proven to be a trusty solution.
The International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders recommends the following exercises:
- Diaphragmatic/Abdominal Breathing
To locate your diaphragm, place your hand above your belly button, just below your ribcage. Practicing abdominal breathing involves allowing your breath to travel deep into your diaphragm.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – this method of relaxation focuses on the tensing and then relaxing of the various muscle groups. When used in combination with abdominal breathing, this method of relaxation can have profound effects on one’s level of tension and anxiety by promoting a state of deep relaxation.
- Visualisation/Positive Imagery – this form of relaxation involves using your mind to imagine yourself in a calm, peaceful and relaxing place. By focusing on such a place, your attention is diverted away from worrisome thoughts.
Trying out general methods for beating stress may also help to sooth belly bloating. The NHS advises trying the following:
- Setting yourself new goals and challenges
- Trying to be positive
- – Talking things over friends and family
- Listening to an anxiety control audio guide
- Getting a good night’s sleep
In some cases, stomach bloating may be a symptom of an underlying condition. The following disorders may be causing it:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Celiac disease
If the bloating persists, the NHS recommends consulting your GP to rule out a more serious condition.