Deepening Your Digestive Skills

As a therapist I have spent a decade talking about digestion metaphorically. Telling clients that it's important to "digest" their experience or emotions has always felt like a great way to deliver the message of what psychological health looks like. It's been a metaphor that works well in helping people to slow down, and a way to let things settle inside before reacting or making big decisions. 

Now, with a deeper understanding of body science, I can speak to digestion both metaphorically and literally. Learning to view physical and emotional health as one unit broadens my work, and allows you the opportunity to heal holistically.

Everything that comes in from the external world goes through your digestive tract. The food you eat, the air you breathe, and the emotions you experience all come from the outside to influence what happens inside. 

You are literally and figuratively digesting stuff all of the time. 

We even make lingual references around the connection between digestion and feelings: 

"Swallow your words"
"Stuff your emotions"
"Bite your tongue"

What's the big deal with digestion?

You'll hear me talk and write about digestion a lot because it's at the core of most mental health conditions. Without healthy digestion your body will not run efficiently, neurotransmitters suffer, and symptoms like anxiety and depression develop. 

Digestion of food actually begins in the mind.

Smelling the fragrant scents of food and spices, seeing the colors and textures of the food—this sensory and mental stimulation causes your nervous system to send signals to all parts of your digestive system to gear up for the job of digestion.
 
Digestion of emotions is also influenced by your mind. When you experience anything in the world you react both physiologically and mentally. Your thoughts send messages to your nervous system causing a reaction or behavior depending on the situation. You might feel your heart race if it's a scary experience, or you may feel a calming sensation if it's a hug or kind word. 

Digestion and emotional experience are so intertwined that being upset can affect your appetite, and not eating properly can affect your mood.

When you let something digest you're providing the space necessary for the mind and body to do what it needs to do. In order for this to happen however, the body must be calm and relaxed. Stress, activated feelings and a hyper-aroused nervous system make the process of physical and emotional digestion impossible.

This is why you literally can't take anything in when you're upset or angry. When you eat in a stressed or aroused state your digestive system cannot breakdown and absorb what you've eaten, and when you're emotionally upset you aren't hungry or get indigestion. 

Dialing in Digestion

Your gut has a built in boundary that keeps you protected from toxins and unwanted elements, but unfortunately that barrier doesn't work in the external world. It's your job to set boundaries that reduce stress, and unwanted intrusions on your health and wellbeing.

The resolution is the same whether it's your dietary habits or your external world. 

Manage what you allow into your systems. From the food you eat to the influence of people in your life, respect yourself enough to defend against intrusion.

Reduce stress, eat mindfully, avoid refined or sugary foods, add bitter greens and a probiotic to your diet, and stay away from situations and people that upset you as much as possible.

Healthy digestion is the gift that keeps on giving, and the true secret to your vitality and longevity.

Photo credit: Photo by SWZLE on Unsplash

Andra Brosh, Ph.D., BCHN