When I was a child, I could eat anything and feel fine. Boy, those were the days! Spicy Doritos followed by Sour Patch Kids, then washed down with tons of Coke and Dr. Pepper was a great meal for me. I didn’t hate fruits and vegetables, but they definitely weren’t my first choice. If I did eat them, I usually doused them in salt and A1 steak sauce, much to my mother’s appall.
I was able to eat this way for years without too many complications. Then, one day, around age 24, my stomach quite literally decided that enough was enough. At the time, my dinner typically consisted of Triscuits topped with Worcestershire sauce and cheese, which I considered to be a major step up from Ramen noodles. My digestive system, however, made it clear that it did not share my sentiments. My body started rejecting foods.
But it wasn’t only when I ate something slightly spicy or acidic that my stomach bothered me. It was also when I would have a particularly stressful day or week at work. I even recall one time when I was not able to hold any food down to the point where I had to leave work.
When people asked what was wrong, what was I supposed to say? I can’t keep my food down like a 2-year-old? The girl who spits up does not get promoted. I wanted to talk about it with someone, but it was so embarrassing. I mean, it’s your digestive system, the most unglamorous system of all after sewage. And do I really need to tell my coworkers that the presentation I had to give resulted in three days of my stomach in knots to the point where I felt nauseous? Wouldn’t that make them underestimate me?
Then one day I discovered that I wasn’t alone. A friend told me that all she and her friends did was talk about their stomach problems, and that all of them had tummy issues in one form or another. Many of them also felt that stress was a big component. They were a sisterhood of sore stomachs.
There seems to be no evidence saying that women in their 20s have more stomach issues than their male counterparts, but according to a new survey from the American Psychological Association, women are significantly more stressed out than men. We’ve discussed that Gen Y is one of the most stressed out generations ever, so it all does add up. But why is the stress specifically focusing on our stomachs?
Health expert Andes Hruby told Levo:
The collapse of the central nervous system which oversees the stomach is directly related to not just the amount of “work” those in their 20s and 30s do, but their inability to unplug when they are not working. They are the essential component of the wonderful social madness at our fingertips, yet it is derailing both their health and their ability to monitor and metabolize correctly.
Dr. Lawrence Hoberman added:
Women’s stress could be caused by concerns with their career, family or other aspects of their lives. When they’re stressed, it directly affects what’s called their gut-brain axis. Stress causes chemical reactions in the body that impact digestion.
Dr. Ida Santana, a Sherpaa guide and expert in millennial women’s health told Levo:
The stress response in the body is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. This is what is called the “fight or flight” response. The stress hormones released in one’s body affect the sympathetic nervous system which innervates the lining of one’s internal organs including the stomach and bowels. When cortisol is released as part of an acute or prolonged stress response, this signals blood flow to the stomach to decrease, and causes a constriction of the muscles around the stomach and intestines. This explains the sensation that one has when fear, anxiety, and worry arise of one’s stomach being “tied in knots.” The smooth muscle around the stomach and intestines is literally contracting in response to stress.
Well, if my stomach is contracting so much, you would think I’d have better abs!
But in all seriousness, there are simple things you can do that will help, somewhat, with your stomach problems. However, if you are in pain everyday, schedule a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
Take a look at our infographic below for more tips, then ask Seventeen Editor in Chief Ann Shoket how she manages stress and pressure at work.