Emotions and digestion:
how stress and happiness can affect your digestive health

The link between emotions and digestion has been well documented – how else can you explain that sudden feeling you get when you are scared and you become instantly nauseous?

We constantly use expressions like ‘I have butterflies in my stomach’ because the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Feelings such as anger, anxiety, sadness, and joy all can trigger symptoms in the gut.

Rennie takes a look at how different emotions can trigger different reactions in your digestive system.


Many experts have referred to the digestive system as a ‘second brain’ due to its sensitivity to emotions and a major factor in your emotional state are the serotonin levels in your body.

The complex interaction that exists between the digestive tract and brain is primarily due to the enteric nervous system. Essentially, this refers to the thousands of nerves aligned across the intestines that alert muscles to contract to move food along the digestive tract.

Similar to the one in your head, your gut's ‘brain’ relies on neurotransmitters such as serotonin – popularly known as the feel-good chemical – to maintain its wellbeing.

A deficit of serotonin can lead to depression so the levels must be sustained in order to maintain a healthy digestive system.


The intimate connection between the digestive system and brain is never more clearly evident than when you may feel intestinal pain during times of stress.

We seem to underestimate the extent to which psychology has an effect on our bodies, when biologically it is the combination of physical elements and psychology that cause pain and other bowel indicators.

Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to stress can lead to the development of several gastrointestinal diseases such as peptic ulcer disease, irritable bowel syndrome and food allergies.

Stress may seem like a purely psychological issue but it can manifest itself in many physiological ways. Ensuring you are able to relax and unwind is vital in maintaining healthy digestion.

Rennie has explored some of the best ways to de-stress in this blog post.


Could stress be a contributing factor to your heartburn or digestive issues? Here are some common symptoms of stress that you should discuss with your doctor:


  • Weight loss or gain
  • Headaches
  • Sleep Problems
  • Restlessness
  • Change in Sleep Pattern


  • Changes in food or alcohol consumption
  • Increased desire to be alone
  • Frequently thinking and talking about stressful situations
  • Taking up bad habits such as smoking or practicing such habits more than usual
  • Difficulty in concentrating


  • Crying
  • Depression
  • Short temperedness
  • Nervous Behaviour
  • Temporary Loss of memory

These symptoms are not an exhaustive list and people suffering from stress may display a wide range of symptoms – which is why it’s important to discuss concerns you may have about your digestion or mental health with your doctor.