People may view abdominal pain and stress as separate issues, but the two often relate to each other through emotional and physical means. Anxiety produced from stress can interfere with the body’s nervous system and disrupt functioning in the stomach and intestines. Some people may even notice they suffer from stomach problems when undergoing difficult periods of stress.
The intestinal nervous system works with neurons similar to brain chemicals found in the central nervous system, according to Harvard Health Publications. When food enters the digestive tract, neurons signal muscle cells to contract and continue the digestive process. Nerve cells in the digestive tract and central nervous system interact as food breaks down into nutrients and waste.
Stress can interfere with the digestive process as people react to the fight-or-flight response, the reaction that causes people to flee or take on a stressful incident. Digestion slows or stops as the body focuses its energy on reacting to stress. Public speaking, taking an exam, attending an important meeting or other stressful events may disrupt the digestive process for some people, leading to gastrointestinal disorders or abdominal pain. An opposite effect can result in gastrointestinal problems causing anxiety and stress, Harvard Health notes. A cycle of abdominal pain and stress can compound problems for people undergoing prolonged stress.
Common physical symptoms related to stress and anxiety include gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, according to Health Central. Anxiety and depression can result in problems with the intestines or colon because of the connection between the digestive tract and the nervous system, leading to abdominal pain or cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
Children and adolescents can experience frequent abdominal pain and other stomach problems from stress and anxiety, according to the medical website Up to Date. Parents who become overly concerned about their child’s pain can reinforce the problem because the child also becomes more anxious or worried. Paying more attention to the child’s school or other activities may eventually reduce the abdominal pain.
Various therapies help treat people with stress and can eventually relieve abdominal troubles. People with chronic anxiety caused by stress may benefit from psychotherapy. Therapists help patients readjust negative thinking and behavior so they focus more on positive thoughts and action. This helps people understand the reasons for their anxiety to overcome it and relieve physical symptoms.
Relaxation therapy plays an important role in reducing stress and abdominal problems, Harvard Health points out. Exercises include progressive muscle relaxation in which people tense a muscle or group of muscles for several seconds before releasing the tension and continuing with muscle groups throughout the body. Visualization helps people imagine peaceful places or thoughts to produce calming effects. The relaxation methods provide an emotional release from stress. Hypnosis, massage or just listening to music can help relieve stress.