Do you ever feel like stress is harboring in your gut? Research shows that there’s a link between mental stress and digestive problems. Thanks to meiosis, the brain and the GI tract share many nerve connections in a part of the nervous system referred to as the “brain-gut axis.” This explains why when you’re upset, your stomach feels like a knot of emotions

Stress alters the normal workings of your digestive system on two fronts:

1. It causes the release of adrenal hormones, which divert energy from your gut and metabolism to your muscles. This diversion of energy is a product of the fight-or-flight response. Chronic stress can slow down your digestive system for extended periods of time, which can lead to ever-discomforting bloating and constipation.

2. Chronic stress messes with the levels of serotonin in your body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that promotes relaxation. The GI tract is a haven for serotonin, so the release of too much or too little serotonin can cause some irregularity.

Luckily, not all is lost when you have a stress-induced stomachache. Here are some ways to keep your GI tract working at its prime when you are stressed:

1. Eat smaller meals

avocado, vegetable
Phoebe Elizaga

When you’re stressed, downing an entire bag of chips may seem like the most satisfying thing you could possibly do for your stomach and your psyche. Don’t do it. Overeating begets constipation and bloating. If you're feeling stressed, plan on eating smaller meals throughout your day. Eat until your stomach is satisfied—not too full, not too empty. Your GI tract will thank you in the long run.

2. Dine on good-for-digestion foods

blueberry, cereal, sweet, milk, yogurt, muesli, berry, oatmeal, porridge
Becky Hughes

Oatmeal, yogurt, and fatty fish can help regulate your digestive system. The fiber in oatmeal helps speed things up or slow things down in your GI tract. Foods rich in probiotics, like yogurt, can calm your mind and your digestive system. Lastly, the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, like salmon, relieve some of the inflammation caused by stress-induced stomachaches.

3. Avoid acidic foods

coffee, espresso, cappuccino, black coffee, mocha, decaffeinated coffee
Asia Coladner

Stress can lead to an increased production of stomach acids. These acids can induce symptoms like those of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Citrus, tomatoes, chocolate, wine, and coffee often give rise to GERD symptoms.

4. Get moving

coffee, tea
Nicole Laszlo

Do an aerobic workout, even if it's just for 30 minutes. Exercise will relieve constipation by speeding up the movement of food through your digestive tract.

As the semester progresses, keep these tips in mind to stop stomach problems before they start. When you’ve done all your work, go ahead and eat that chocolate cake with a glass of wine.