The Gut-Brain Connection: How Your Mental Health Affects Your Gut Health

Feb 6, 2024


Think about the feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach. Or have you ever felt nauseous when you’re upset? These phrases are part of our vocabulary for a reason: There’s a strong link between your emotions and your digestive system.

If you have anxiety, depression or just feel stressed, it can feel a little like a “chicken and egg” scenario. Does your stomach feel off because you’re anxious? Or are you stressed because you’re having intestinal trouble? The short answer is that it could be both.

The gut-brain axis

The gut-brain connection, also called the gut-brain axis, can play a big role in improving your gut health or managing a gastrointestinal disorder. Studies have shown that taking steps to treat mental health disorders or reduce stress can improve the effectiveness of other gastrointestinal treatments.

Managing your gut and mental health

Several strategies can help manage stress, anxiety and depression. You may try some of these methods on your own, or your doctor may recommend a combination of several treatments:

  • Exercise: Daily movement has a significant impact on multiple aspects of your health. It’s good for your heart, bones, muscles—and mental health. Try to move at least 30 minutes a day, whether it’s walking around your neighborhood or signing up for an exercise class.
  • Mindfulness and relaxation: Techniques like breathing exercises, mindfulness and yoga can help you cope with everyday stress or manage a mental health condition. One study of more than 1,000 adults found that those who meditated regularly reduced their anxiety symptoms more significantly than those who didn’t.
  • Psychotherapy: Also called talk therapy, psychotherapy is one of the most common treatments for managing depression or anxiety. A therapist can help you overcome fears, learn mindfulness and reduce behaviors that worsen your anxiety.
  • Medication: When symptoms are severe or other treatments aren’t effective, medications can be a useful option. For many people, medications help reduce symptoms enough that they’re able to practice other coping strategies more effectively.

Researchers have also found that improving your gut health can help you manage anxiety or depression. There are many foods you can eat for gut health and lifestyle changes you can make. Getting adequate sleep, avoiding processed foods and drinking plenty of water will go a long way to a healthier gut.

If either gastrointestinal or mental health symptoms are interfering with your life, talk with your doctor. You deserve to live your healthiest life. Find an Adventist Health provider near you.