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The Simple Secret to Moving From Fight or Flight to Rest and Digest

In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, letting our gut health fall to the wayside. One of the easiest ways we can ensure our body can absorb those much-needed nutrients is by activating the “rest and digest” mode. Here’s how you can do this right now.

With mounting responsibilities and poor mental health, many of us are dealing chronic stress and an overactive sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "fight or flight" response. The fight or flight mode is essential for survival in threatening situations, but being in this state during mealtime can adversely affect digestion and nutrient absorption. We’ll be delving into how to activate the rest and digest mode, along with unveiling the role of stress in triggering the fight or flight response, and the detrimental impact it can have on our digestive processes. Let's get you on the path to cultivating a relaxed, optimal eating environment for digestion and overall wellbeing.

Understanding the Fight or Flight Response

The fight or flight response is an innate survival mechanism that prepares our bodies to confront or flee from perceived threats. When faced with stress or danger, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase heart rate, dilate airways, and divert blood flow away from non-essential functions, including digestion, in preparation for immediate action. Excess cortisol can have various adverse effects on the body and overall health. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress, and it plays a crucial role in the body's "fight or flight" response, helping us cope with challenging situations. However, chronic or long-term elevation of cortisol levels can lead to several negative consequences:

  • Suppressed Immune System: Prolonged high cortisol levels can suppress the immune system's response, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.
  • Weight Gain: Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone," and its excess can lead to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy, high-calorie foods. This may contribute to weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area.
  • Impaired Cognitive Function: High cortisol levels can impair memory, concentration, and cognitive function, leading to difficulties in decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Excess cortisol can disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to insomnia or poor sleep quality.
  • Bone Density Loss: Chronic elevation of cortisol can lead to decreased bone density, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
  • Mood Disorders: High cortisol levels have been associated with an increased risk of developing mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

  • Digestive Issues: Elevated cortisol can interfere with digestion, leading to symptoms like bloating, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Cardiovascular Problems: Long-term cortisol elevation can contribute to high blood pressure and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  • Muscle Wasting: Excess cortisol can lead to muscle breakdown, which may result in muscle weakness and a decrease in lean body mass.
  • Hormonal Imbalance: Prolonged stress and elevated cortisol levels can disrupt the balance of other hormones in the body, leading to irregular menstrual cycles in women and reduced fertility in both men and women. 

The Impact of Fight or Flight on Digestion

Being in a constant state of stress during mealtime can disrupt the digestive process in several ways:

  • Reduced Enzyme Production: In fight or flight mode, blood is diverted away from the digestive organs, leading to reduced enzyme production. This can impair the breakdown of nutrients and hinder optimal digestion.
  • Slowed Gastric Emptying: Stress can delay gastric emptying, causing food to stay in the stomach longer than necessary. This may lead to feelings of bloating, discomfort, and decreased appetite.
  • Altered Nutrient Absorption: Chronic stress can affect the lining of the intestines, potentially reducing nutrient absorption and leading to nutrient deficiencies over time.

Activating the Rest and Digest Mode

Mindful Breathing: Practicing deep and mindful breathing before meals can shift the body from a state of stress to relaxation. Deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the "rest and digest" mode, promoting optimal digestion. 

Create a Calm Atmosphere: Set the stage for a tranquil meal by creating a calming environment free from distractions like TV or smartphones. Dim the lights, play soft music, or take a moment to express gratitude for the nourishing meal.

Mindful Eating: Slow down and savour each bite, engaging your senses in the eating experience. Chew your food thoroughly to aid digestion and release enzymes that break down nutrients efficiently.

Practice Stress-Relief Techniques: Incorporate stress-relief practices into your daily routine, such as yoga, meditation, or a leisurely walk in nature. These activities can help reduce stress hormones and promote relaxation.

Keen to learn more simple relaxation techniques? That’s what we’re here for! The 21-Day Gut Rebalance Program is your resource for eating mindfully. Whether it's constipation, bloating or even stress that's got you down, a few simple changes to the ways in which we eat – not just what we eat – can make all the difference. Let's uncover the ins and outs of healing, from the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics to the inflammation-busting foods you should be eating.

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