The fact that your brain is in constant conversation with your gut isn’t exactly new intel. Your belly’s wellbeing can have a direct affect on your mood, and nixing processed foods and gluten might even help with depression.
But did you know it’s possible to tap into that powerful connection in order to soothe your brain and your gut (and thus, your entire body) instantly?
Yup, totally possible—here’s the key: Just breathe.
“Taking deep, belly breaths for five minutes is the single most effective way to calm the brain and the gut,” says Emeran Mayer, MD, a gastroenterologist, author of The Mind-Gut Connection, and one of the world’s foremost experts on the brain/gut connection.
What a lot of people don’t get, Dr. Mayer says, is that the gut is basically a mirror image of the face. In the same way that it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re sad or pissed off by looking at you, it’s really obvious when your emotions are out of whack because you often start to feel certain gut-related, um, ickiness.
“When you’re angry, your stomach goes into spasms. That’s why someone usually says their stomach is in knots,” Dr. Mayer says. Likewise, when you’re anxious or scared, the stomach can reverse and cause you to vomit—or the spasms can spark secretions, causing diarrhea.
So what does all this have to do with deep belly breathing? It activates the diaphragm, which is regulated by the phrenic nerve, Dr. Mayer explains, and can help calm those stomach spasms.
Plus, breathing really deeply helps prevent a vicious (bloat-inducing) cycle: When you’re stressed, certain hormones are alerted, activating blood flow to the gut and sparking acid production and secretions—again, leading to gas, bloating…and worse.
And, of course, breathing deeply can instantly calm a whirring, anxious mind.
“Taking deep, belly breaths for five minutes is the single most effective way to calm the brain and the gut.”
That’s not to say having a nervous, bloated stomach is somehow all in your head. Dr. Mayer says certain foods can absolutely aggravate gut discomfort, so if you’ve got something on the horizon that’s making you particularly anxious (a public speaking event or race you’re nervous about, for example), be sure not to eat anything that will make your stomach work extra hard in order to break down. “Stick with easy-to-digest foods and don’t overeat,” he advises.
Then the next time you’re feeling super-bloated, super-agitated, or both, take five minutes to just breathe in and breathe out deeply—and repeat. Your brain and belly will thank you.