The idea that the gut and the brain are closely connected and interact is deeply rooted in the language we use such as ‘gut wrenching’, ‘sick to my stomach’, ‘butterflies in my stomach’,  ‘feel nauseous’, ‘gut feeling’ … 

We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release hydrochloric acid before food gets there and sets up our digestive process.  This connection goes both ways.  An ‘upset gut’ can send signals to the brain, just as an ‘upset’  brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s gut symptoms can be the cause or the result of  their emotions.   That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected. We call this the gut-brain axis or the enteric nervous system (ENS). 

There are lots of communication pathways but the main 2 is between the hypothalamus pituitary-adrenal axis (which is largely involved in the release of specific hormone) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Within the ANS – we have the enteric nervous system ( or ‘2nd brain’) which is a continuous communication between our brain, our gut and our gut bacteria.  600 million nerve cells in the ENS (which is the same as the spinal cord) which tells you something.

The vagus nerve runs from our brain to our organs (part of the ANS) and an important part of the ENS.  When we are stressed our digestive system is put on hold.  We stimulate digestion via the vagus nerve by relaxing our mind (and our body).

Lots of people with functional GI disorders perceive pain more acutely than other people do because their brains are more responsive to pain signals from the GI tract. Stress can make the existing pain seem even worse.

Research has shown that ‘negative emotions’ have a key role in a dysfunctional communication between the brain and the gut and thereby causing IBS symptoms such as bloating and indigestion.  The most commonly associated emotions are anger, anxiety, and depression [1, 2, 3] which have been consistently associated with visceral and pain hypersensitivity.  

Certain personalities and emotions play a role in the creation of disease states, symptoms and health outcomes – affect our ANS, immunity, inflammation, hormones.  Those vulnerable to stress, perfectionists, Type A personalities, worriers, those whose emotions are up and down, those that can’t recognise  or identify their emotions, type D personalities (those who suppress or inhibit their emotions or have more negative emotions) are much more likely to have functional gut problems.

Metaphysical Aspects 

There is a field of ‘health’ which looks at the metaphysical aspects of health. The idea being that emotions that have not been processed properly are stored in certain parts of the body. 

In traditional Chinese medicine it is believed that emotions are usually stored in the chest, the solar plexus and the belly and that emotions such as fear, worry and guilt are linked to the gut and digestion. 

Louise Hay made this concept popular back in the 1980’s with her book ‘You Can Heal Your Life’. In this book she records various health concerns with emotions and then provides positive affirmations to try and turn them around.

In regards to digestion here are some examples:

Digestive Concern


Positive Affirmation


Gut level fear; dread, anxiety

I digest and assimilate all new experiences peacefully and joyfully. 

Bowel problems

Fear of letting go of the old and no longer needed ‘stuff’

I freely and easily release the old and joyously welcome the new.


Fear – gulping life too quickly

There is time and space for everything I need to do. I am at peace. 


Refusing to release old ideas. Stuck in the past. Sometimes stingy. 

As I release the past, the new and fresh and vital enter. I allow life to flow through me,


Fear. Rejection. Running off.  

My intake, assimilation and elimination are in perfect order. I am at peace with life. 


My tips:

    • Be honest about your emotions – what are you feeling and why?
    • Get help – counselor or NLP practitioner, psychologist
    • Consider ways to reduce stress load or develop resistance – journaling, meditation, breathing, nature, exercise, yoga, qi gong…listening to music, dancing, art, tapping, hypnotherapy…herbs…’me time’
    • Finding joy in your every day life – what did you enjoy as a child?   Focus on what you can be grateful for?

    There is a YouTube video of this blog. Head over to Sarah’s You Tube Channel if you are interested in watching rather than reading.

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