“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.” ~ Willie Nelson
Okay, it might not turn our whole life around, but practicing gratitude can certainly have a big impact on our life…and our gut!
Gratitude sounds a bit “fluffy” or “crunchy,” but, when I started researching this, I was overwhelmed with scientific studies proving the health impacts of practicing gratitude.
Hundreds of studies have found that it impacts everything from sleep to heart health to skin and blood pressure. So, not only does it have a whole holiday dedicated to it, but it’s scientifically proven to make you healthier.
It’s time to pay attention to gratitude and what better time than Thanksgiving!
What is Gratitude?
Before we dive in, let’s take a second to remind ourselves what gratitude actually is.
It’s not just simply saying “thank you.” According to Berkeley, it’s quite a complex emotion, involving:
>> Recognizing something good has happened to you.
>> Showing appreciation for it.
>> Connecting with something outside of yourself.
>> Strengthening bonds with other people.
So, it’s all about recognizing and appreciating the good in the everyday things and people around us.
5 Reasons Gratitude is Good for the Gut:
1. The Gut-Brain Axis Works Both Ways.
You’ve probably heard a lot about the gut-brain axis and how our gut health can affect our brain and our mental health? Well, it works both ways. Our gut sends signals to our brain, but our brain also sends signals back to our gut.
When we’re grateful, it makes us happy and content, so our brain sends a message to our gut (via the gut-brain axis) to let it know that everything’s okay. Once they know everything’s okay, our good gut bacteria thrive, leading to better digestion and a happier gut.
2. Reduces Stress.
Gratitude decreases stress almost instantaneously. How crazy is that?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is an incredibly stress-sensitive condition because stress levels directly impact our digestion. When our body is under stress, it’s in “fight-or-flight” mode, so it shuts down all the systems that don’t require it. One of these is digestion. So, when we’re stressed, our body literally can’t digest our food! This will result in a lot of pain and either diarrhea or constipation — it can go both ways.
So, gratitude can quickly switch our body into “rest-and-digest” mode and therefore enable us to digest our food much better.
3. Pulls us into the Present.
When was the last time you ate a meal slowly, not rushing, without a TV, phone, or emails in front of you?
Gratitude makes us aware of what’s happening around us. We have to notice things to feel grateful for them. This helps to slow us down so we can live more mindfully. Again, this activates the parasympathetic, “rest-and-digest” system. It also means we’re more likely to eat slowly and chew our food properly.
Both activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and chewing cause a release of digestive enzymes, which help break food down and prepare it for digestion.
Chewing also triggers the release of hormones that help us realize we’ve had enough. If we eat quickly, we can miss these signals and end up uncomfortably full.
Maybe this is why most cultures have a tradition of taking a moment of gratitude before eating a meal.
4. Helps us Sleep Better.
Gratitude actually improves the quality of our sleep, reduces the time it takes to fall asleep, and increases the amount of time we can sleep for. In one study of 400 healthy people, those who had higher scores on a gratitude test actually reported much better sleep.
You might have noticed that a poor night’s sleep can have a huge impact on your IBS. I personally find lack of sleep to be my biggest trigger. When we sleep, our body has time to digest our food, so if we don’t give it enough time to do that, we’ll wake up bloated and uncomfortable. A lack of sleep also causes inflammation, which shows up as more bloating and stomach pain.
On top of that, a lack of sleep raises our hunger hormone, ghrelin, and reduces our appetite-suppressing hormone, leptin, so we feel hungrier and we’re more likely to crave sugary foods and less likely to make sensible food choices. This is all a recipe for IBS symptoms!
5. Makes us Emotionally Stronger.
Gratitude improves self-esteem and lowers risk of depression. It reduces emotions like jealousy, resentment, and regret. On top of that, it improves our resilience and our ability to deal with stressful and traumatic events.
We all know that life with IBS can be draining and stressful to deal with. There are often bad days, and cultivating some extra resilience can make us more capable of dealing with those bad days and rising above them.
Make it Last Past Thanksgiving
So, gratitude is great for our gut! To really get the gut-loving benefits from it though, we need to practice it more than just once a year. We need to make it part of our everyday life.
How do we do that?
The research supports saying thanks to people who don’t expect it and writing down a few things each day. So, think about what’ll work best for you — gratitude journaling, thanking someone, writing a thank you note, etc.
It’s more likely to stick if we make it a daily habit. So, pick a time you can commit to every day. Whether it’s writing down five things you’re grateful for or thinking of someone you want to thank, it only takes two minutes! The times I’ve seen work best are first thing in the morning, just before bed, or every time you sit down to a meal.
Stick to it.
Commit to doing it every day for a set period of time, say two weeks, and stick with it.
How do you feel after two weeks of practicing gratitude? Do you feel more positive, more calm, less bloated?
Gratitude is like exercise — it’s a muscle we need to build. The more we practice, the easier it’ll be to feel grateful when we really need to.
Gratitude is all about recognizing and appreciating the good in the everyday things and people around us.
What’s one thing you’re grateful for today? Let me know in the comments.
Want some help surviving the holidays with IBS? I’ve just created a free IBS Holiday Survival Course just for you. Click here to sign up and get started now.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and letting me be a part of your journey in taking control of your gut, eating well, and living your life.