Although most people associate stress with the ‘emotional stress’ caused by the pressure of a deadline, or disagreements with family or colleagues, in fact there are many more sources of stress. Even when it feels like you’re relaxing, you could be inflicting stress on your body.
Scrolling through Facebook, or checking the latest BBC news whilst enjoying your M&S sandwich might seem like a relaxing distraction and a good way to take some time out, but in fact physiologically, your body can’t tell the difference.
Fight or flight
Simply looking at a screen is a stressor for the brain as the flickering light and huge amounts of data overwhelm your normal processing capacity and put you into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means your nervous system directs all of your body’s resources towards functions it considers necessary for dealing with an emergency situation (like facing a sabre tooth tigre!) It diverts resources away from digestion, deemed not immediately necessary for survival. Gastric juices won’t flow as they should, food won’t be broken down sufficiently for you to get the maximum amount of nutrients from it. Food which has been poorly digested upstream may cause gas and bloating, because it starts to ferment and putrefy in the intestines, disrupting the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut. Over time, this can have devastating effects on your digestive system, leading to symptoms which often get labelled ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ or IBS.
And it’s not just the switch into ‘fight or flight’ mode which is undesirable, it’s also the fact that our attention is being diverted away from what we are doing, leading to unconscious eating. This means we are not savouring our food, probably not chewing it sufficiently, and probably also eating much more than we really need to. Changing these habits will have hugely beneficial results.
When your body is in ‘rest and digest’ mode, you’ll benefit from optimal digestion and absorb maximum amounts of nutrients from your food. This means that your nervous system will be geared to ‘pressing all the right buttons’ for the complex digestive processes to take place.
How to switch into ‘rest and digest’?
- Avoid looking at any screens while you are eating
- Move away from your desk and sit somewhere where you can be relaxed
- Chew each mouthful (ideally at least 21 times) to make sure your food is coated with digestive enzymes
Go on – give it a go.