When it comes to acid reflux—and particularly gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)—we’re all used to hearing how your diet can affect it. Cutting out trigger foods can help manage GERD, but sometimes, stress can play a role as well.
If you’ve ever felt acid reflux symptoms get worse when you’re worried or anxious, you’re not alone. Research shows that there’s a link between stress and acid reflux. As such, managing stress may be one of the keys to managing GERD symptoms in addition to dietary changes.
What the Science Says About Stress and Acid Reflux
While the particulars of how it works are still unknown, there is compelling research that indicates that stress has a link with acid reflux symptoms.
The Connection Between Stress and GERD
In terms of establishing this connection, two studies in particular stand out. One, which surveyed over 65,000 adults in Norway, found that those who reported low levels of job satisfaction were nearly twice as likely to have GERD symptoms. In addition, those who reported high job demands, low job control, and high job strain were likewise more likely to experience acid reflux.
The other study, published in 2015, found that over 45% of those who were treated for GERD reported feelings of stress, which was more common than those who reported dietary factors, such as consuming sweets, greasy foods, and coffee.
Stress Leads to Worse Symptoms
In terms of how stress causes increased GERD symptoms, it’s still unknown, but evidence does suggest that it can make people more sensitive to acid reflux. In 1993, for instance, a study showed that while increasing stress among test subjects did affect their subjective assessment of pain from acid reflux, there wasn’t any real change in acid exposure or frequency.
Stress and Discomfort
Overall, it appears that while stress may not affect the actual severity of acid reflux disease, it can make you more sensitive to its symptoms. Experts believe it may be related to how stress causes your brain to turn up pain receptors or deplete substances that protect your stomach from acid. The end result is increased discomfort, even though you’re not actually having more acid reflux episodes.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Stress and GERD
Since stress can make GERD symptoms feel worse, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to better manage your stress. These include the following.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep is a major factor when it comes to stress management. If you’re unrested, life will get to you more. On the other hand, getting enough sleep at night can help reduce stress during the day.
Exercise is also a good way to handle stress. It releases endorphins in your brain, promoting positive emotions, while also loosening up tight muscles and allowing you to relax a bit. It’s also good for managing weight, which is another acid reflux factor.
Simple breathing techniques, guided meditation, yoga, and other relaxation methods can help you as well. By stepping away from your problems for a few minutes, you’ll be better equipped to tackle life’s challenges with a refreshed perspective while giving your mind a quick break.
Social, emotional, and physical boundaries are an important aspect of managing stress. Learning to say “no” when your schedule is full can be a great way to keep stress to a minimum. One way to look at this is to make room for yourself in your life. If you find that others’ demands are crowding you out of your own life, it may be time to tighten your personal boundaries.
Find the Humor in Life
Laughter is medicine, as the saying goes, and it can definitely help you relieve stress after a difficult day. Watch a funny video, visit with friends, or go see a show.
Spend Time with Your Favorite People
Spending time with loved ones, like family, close friends, or even pets, is essential to a healthy lifestyle, and it can go a long way toward minimizing stress. Make time to be with your favorite people / animals, even if only for a little while.
Acid Reflux Treatment When All Else Fails
If all else fails and you still experience severe heartburn on a regular basis, you may need medical treatment. Dr. Malladi can help you determine whether acid reflux surgery is right for you, so contact Malladi Bariatrics and Advanced Surgery to set up an appointment.