Beating the bloat - have you considered stress?

by Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Posted on Sep 13, 10:17 AM No comments.

by Laura Reilly, MSc Food, Nutrition & Health

Many of us have experienced abdominal bloating – when your tummy is stretched, feels uncomfortable or even painful, that feeling of heaviness or pressure. While bloating may be a minor inconvenience for some people, for many it can be persistent and exhausting to manage.

There can be many causes of bloating such as eating certain foods that cause gas in the digestive tract, constipation or eating too quickly. While our go-to is often to blame a certain food or food group, if you suffer from bloating or digestive issues quite regularly and you are searching for a solution – one cause we often neglect to consider is stress!

Why might your bloating be stress related? Read on to learn why – plus some tips and tricks you can implement to help the issue.

Stress and the Gut

Stress activates our nervous system which in turn can affect the digestive process, causing symptoms such as abdominal cramping, pain, altered bowel movements and also – bloating (1).

This is because of the well established gut-brain connection – a two-way communication system that exists between our brain and our gut (2)(3). One part of our nervous system (the ‘Enteric Nervous System’ / ENS ) which helps to regulate digestion, acts as one of these communication routes. Exposure to stress can affect the ability of the ENS to regulate digestion effectively. Persistent gut issues such as bloating or cramping can also heighten stress and anxiety – leading to a vicious cycle. This gut-brain connection is why managing social or psychological stressors may help ease digestive problems.

There are a number of lifestyle factors that may trigger or worsen abdominal bloating including physical inactivity and stress. Alternative approaches to help improve digestive issues, bloating or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) include cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation therapy or stress management.

What can I do to help manage or reduce bloating?

Abdominal bloating is often your body’s way of reacting to stress and as such, engaging in activities that help slow down your nervous system, may be beneficial. Find our top tips for managing abdominal bloating below.

Mindful Eating

How often do you sit down at the dinner table to eat your meal, without any distractions and actually savouring each bite? If mindlessly spooning porridge into your mouth as you trawl through morning emails sounds too familiar – maybe now’s the time to start eating more mindfully!

Digestion begins in the mouth, so make sure to chew your food slowly. This will ensure the enzymes in your mouth have a chance to begin digesting the food you’re eating. Eating too quickly may also lead to swallowing excess air which can lead to trapped wind and abdominal discomfort. We often eat too quickly when we’re not paying attention to our meal. A good way to counteract this is to eat without any distractions. Try not to eat your meal while watching TV, on your phone or mindlessly eating while you’re trying to get work done. You may also want to check your posture while you eat – ensure you’re sitting up straight and not hunched over your plate or bowl while slouched on the couch.

Deep belly breaths

This goes for taking deep breaths during your meal to gauge your appetite level (and also to slow down your eating!) as well as a coping tool to reduce stress levels. If you are feeling anxious, stressed or overwhelmed – take a moment to sit up straight, place your feet on the ground and focus on your breathing. This will help to regulate your nervous system and switch out of ‘fight or flight’ mode and back into ‘rest and digest’.

The box breathing method is a great way of doing so: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and repeat at least 3 times.

Diaphragmatic breathing can also act as an effective method for relieving constipation in tandem with relaxing the nervous system. It acts as a massage for the intestines and the stomach, initiating movement of the intestines. Next time you’re going to the toilet, focus on your inhale and these deep belly breaths.

Gentle movement

The positive effects of exercise on our mental health is well established. Exercise can boost serotonin levels (our happy hormones) and as such, is a great way of alleviating stress or anxiety. Gentle forms of exercise like Yoga or Pilates can be extremely beneficial as they move the body while also focusing on the breath. Recent evidence indicates that yoga breathing exercises may have a positive effect on stress and anxiety levels (4).

If you are fed-up of feeling bloated and uncomfortable, try to assess your stress levels and invest your time in figuring out what stress-reducing methods work for you. If you suffer from persistent and severe bloating, do seek the help of a professional to rule out any other causes. The AM dietetics team is here to help you feel better.


1. Konturek PC, Brzozowski T, Konturek SJ. Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011 Dec 1;62(6):591-9.
2. Selhub EM, Logan AC, Bested AC. Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: Ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Vol. 33, Journal of Physiological Anthropology. 2014.
3. Mayer EA. Gut feelings: The emerging biology of gut-“brain communication. Vol. 12, Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Nature Publishing Group; 2011. p. 453–66.
4. Novaes MM, Palhano-Fontes F, Onias H, Andrade KC, Lobão-Soares B, Arruda-Sanchez T, Kozasa EH, Santaella DF, de Araujo DB. Effects of yoga respiratory practice (Bhastrika pranayama) on anxiety, affect, and brain functional connectivity and activity: a randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in psychiatry. 2020 May 21;11:467.

About the author

Anne Myers-Wright

Anne Myers-Wright RD/APD

Anne is a Health Professions Council (HPC) registered dietitian (RD), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD- Australia), a fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA), a member of the British Dietetic Association, The Nutrition Society and of The Dietetics Association of Australia.


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