How to Stop Stressful Thoughts From Influencing Your Microbiome

The Holiday Season is in full force, and it just so happens to be the most stressful time of year for most of us. Traveling, maneuvering around impatient shoppers, traffic piling up, year-end deadlines, etc. all compile to construct a volatile stress bomb ready to go off. And that bomb has its sights on igniting a devastating blow to your gut. That is if you allow it to..

On our most recent recordings of the Gut Guardians Podcast we had on Dr. Richard Matthews the author of The Symbiont Factor. During our discussion we had a lengthy conversation on the role that our gut microbiota has on brain and vice versa. Much attention has been brought about how these microbes influence our behavior. Being such a big proponent of eating well, and feeding my microbiota the proper foods, I kind of forgot how much my thoughts might also be effecting my gut microbiota. That was when I was reminded that the gut-brain connection is not one way street. If one is broken, the other will soon fail as well.

Source: Figure reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Cryan JF and Dinan TG. Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour.19 Nature Rev Neuroscience 2012; 13: 701–712, copyright 2012.

This study concluded that :

     “Stress induces increased permeability of the gut allowing bacteria and bacterial antigens to cross the epithelial barrier and activate a mucosal immune response, which in turn alters the composition of the microbiome and leads to enhanced HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis or gut brain axis) drive. Increasing data from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and major depression indicate that in these syndromes alteration of the HPA may be induced by increased gut permeability.”

To heal and keep a happy gut, one must be focused on a two pronged attack. While a unhealthy gut might make you more inclined to lash out at that idiot that just cut you off in traffic, a more well balanced mind will help alleviate the anger stress being brought out when these types of situations happen. Less stress = less gut inflammation = stable microbiome.

Dealing with Stress:

Doing yoga is great for becoming aware of ones breath and motions of the body, but one can only practice yoga for a certain amount of time. What about when your at work, and the deadline is approaching within the hour. That internal heat gets cooking, and the sweat beads down your sides. A downward spiral is easy to fall into, but so is practicing breathing and awareness of the situation. By not allowing the stress to take over and infiltrate your mind, you can protect yourself from the damaging effects of stress. Fight or Fortify, as Dr. Matthews would say. It takes work, but so does finding the right foods in your diet. You can almost call it a thought diet.

To achieve optimal gut function, the thoughts that we have must be ones that aren’t full of anger, envy, and rage. Granted, life isn’t perfect, we all experience these emotional outbursts, but it’s how we deal with them that really effects our health. As James Altucher would say, the first arrow doesn’t kill you, the second arrow does. That first arrow is the knee jerk reaction, recognize it and don’t allow it to flourish. If it does become an infested thought, that is when the second arrow kills you. Worry, anxiety, and anger will turn your gut into a soupy mess if this is a daily tradition. You can take all the best probiotics and fermentable fibers in the world, if the gut is underneath a constant strain of pain and anxiety, little will come of a complete, full recovery.

Keep Gut and Brain on Same Page

Here are some tips that I have implemented to give my brain a healthy diet of thoughts. This isn’t New Age BS, this has helped me and many others:

1. Mindfulness: If your paying attention to the foods in your body, you need to be mindful of the thoughts you allow in your head. If a shitty thought comes in, recognize it as it is, and just place it in a simple category: is this thought useful or not?

2. Present: Worrying of future or past is wasteful energy. The only thing you can change is right now. Seems to be a repeat, but just don’t allow the brain overtake and snowball problems out of your control. Be aware of the thought and stay in the present moment.

3. No News: I don’t read or watch the news. It’s not because I’m ignorant, I just don’t want to be flooded with negative messages. The news is made to elicit an emotional response out of you, creating an attachment and allowing you to express hate, guilt, and fear. And for you to watch ads every 5 minutes and to tune in for the next reason the world is going to fall apart. Life isn’t that scary. Go out, play, and stay in the NOW.

4. Nature: Step outside and get out of the city. For me, I have a the majestic Rockies to call my playground, but others might have a small brook or a local park. Take in the fresh air, notice the sway of the trees, and become completely engaged with your surroundings. It’s incredibly peaceful and can give the mind a chance to take a break from the constant worries of everyday life.

5.  Walk: For those of us who sit on the couch, scroll through the latest season of Game of Thrones (for the 3rd time) and count down the hours till bedtime, little energy is being used by the brain. Mindlessly watching an amazing TV series is needed every now and then. But for a brain recharge, movement needs to happen. Just a simple 20-30 minute walk can put your mind at ease and relieve the days stresses.

6. Breathe: Dr. Matthews says it best, that most of us forget to breathe. By just concentrated on our breath, and feel the air pass in and out of lungs can leave us with the sensation of feeling ALIVE. For some, using a HeartMath device, the same can be achieved. Being conscious of the breathe, especially when a stressful event is happening, can be extremely beneficial and help quell the storm.

These are my ways to keep my brain and gut in sync with one another, do you do the same? What other ways do you keep your brain from spinning out of control?

  • Joe L

    Thanks Matt, what a nice reminder about the influence of stress and the microbiome! I can get quite stressed sometimes about getting my diet and supplements right to support healthy digestion, which, like you say, is totally counter-productive 🙂 Keep up the good work.

  • You’re welcome! I hear ya, it can be really frustrating. Just gotta stay as positive as you can. Have a great holiday Joe. Don’t eat too much pumpkin pie 😉