Have you been experiencing more abdominal pain during the COVID-19 pandemic? There is a scientific reason – it might be stress!
With the constant news coverage on the number of infected patients, death counts, and businesses shutting down, there is no doubt that everybody is feeling stressed out. Perhaps, it is even safe to say that almost no one is immune to the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic.
The stress can affect one’s mental and emotional health, as well as take a toll on their body physically. On the note of digestive health, stress can trigger contractions in the gastrointestinal tract which could lead to stress-related digestive symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, and stomach pain.
Why does stress cause stomach pain?
When a person is stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol into the bloodstream. This causes a fight-or-flight response and, amongst other effects, can directly trigger abdominal discomfort, or other symptoms such as stomach cramps, constipation, and nausea.
Cortisol levels are meant to rise in the morning and decrease throughout the day. This hormone’s purpose is to maintain blood sugar levels to keep the brain and muscle functioning and suppress non-vital systems like digestion. But, when triggered by stress, the cortisol levels that spiked can take hours to dissipate. If the stress is continuous and the levels do not drop, it could lead to malfunctions in the body and an increased risk of inflammation, infections, and illnesses.
Aside from the direct results of cortisol, our reaction to stress can also indirectly contribute to poor digestive health. For example, some people experiencing chronic stress may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating, consuming unhealthy foods, smoking, or drinking alcohol. These new habits can cause stomach discomfort or other gastrointestinal health issues.
How to soothe my abdominal pain?
If you are experiencing abdominal pain, there are a few home remedies you can try. They include:
- Heat: Warming your stomach with a heat pack can help the muscles to relax and reduce stomach pain. You can also use a hot water bottle and apply it to your stomach for 20 minutes or until it goes cool.
- Medication: There are over-the-counter medications available at the pharmacy that can help alleviate stomach pain. Be sure to consult the pharmacist and follow the instructions indicated for the given medication.
- Herbal tea: Some teas have a calming effect that may help your stomach feel better. You can try ginger, chamomile, or peppermint tea.
- Avoid smoking and consuming alcohol: Smoking can irritate the throat and increase the likelihood of an upset stomach. Alcohol is hard to digest and can cause damage to the liver and stomach lining. It is best to avoid these when you are experiencing abdominal pain.
When you experience stomach or gastrointestinal discomfort, it would be best to visit your doctor to find out the cause of your symptoms. In some cases, your doctor might refer you to a gastroenterologist for further diagnostic tests. Besides stress, some stomach problems can also be a sign of other medical issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and pancreatic cancer.
If the reason behind your abdominal pain turns out to be stress, a few simple things you can do to overcome stress include exercising regularly, staying socially connected to friends and family, and also meditation or yoga to ease tension!