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January 18, 2022  
REFLUX1 FEATURE: Managing Your Stress

Stress and Reflux Disease: A Troublesome Combination

Stress Management and RefluxAs with many digestive problems, stress can play a role in the severity of reflux symptoms. In the case of GERD, a strong connection between stress and increased symptoms has not been found, though some patients do complain of more severe symptoms when they are under more than "the usual" amount of stress. One reason for this may be that patients confuse the source of the symptoms, for example thinking independently-occurring heartburn - which is a common symptom of stress - is due to GERD, since it is one of GERD's most common symptoms. Also, secondary stress behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, undereating, unhealthy eating, alcohol consumption, smoking, and changes in sleeping habits can contribute directly to the symptoms of GERD.

Patients who are concerned that the level of stress in their lives is contributing to pre-existent reflux disease should consult their doctors about the most helpful treatment regimen. The symptoms of stress and reflux disease can overlap, and are only sometimes related. As with all health issues, a qualified health care giver should confirm diagnosis and help patients decide on the best way to manage symptoms and their causes.

In the meantime, Reflux1 offers these tips for managing your stress levels and, in turn, keeping your reflux symptoms at bay:

Practice good nutrition.
Eating well can have a big impact on how your body and mind deal with stress. For example, Sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and chocolate � foods that are already on the �no list� for reflux sufferers � have all been found to play a negative role when it comes to stress. A balanced, reflux-healthy diet limits or eliminates these foods but ironically, stress can actually make it harder to eat well. When people are feeling rushed or tense, the impulse can be to grab the quickest thing available, even if it�s a sugar- and chocolate-packed candy bar or a cup of coffee to slurp as they run out the door. Also, stress can lead to snacking and cravings for unhealthy foods, such as salty potato chips, a few drinks after work, or a big, sugar-filled slice of chocolate cake. Try replacing those satisfying sensations you associate with junk food by opting for healthier foods that can create the same sensations. For example, if you go for crunchy foods when you�re harried, try munching on carrots or celery, instead of going for the crispy fried foods. Nutritious energy bars often have nougat-like centers, if you enjoy gnawing on something chewy when you feel like gritting your teeth, and the extra protein and nutrients will give you more energy, while the lower sugar content will prevent a �sugar crash,� and may cut short a vicious cycle of snacking, feeling bad, and snacking again.

Remember that good nutrition can lead to fewer cravings in the long run, because your body won�t be crying out for something it misses. If you feel you just can�t do without something more decadent, try and keep it within the realm of foods that won�t make your condition worse. Some doctors may even recommend a stress-busting diet to their patients who suffer from stress.

Myriad studies have shown that regular exercise helps beat the stress monster. It also fights obesity, another contributing factor in GERD disease. Even if you don�t consider yourself an athlete, taking a brisk walk once a day or vowing to take the stairs instead of the elevator at the office are little things that add up to make a big difference in your activity level. Make a habit of getting up to move several times during your work day, and when you have free time, try to opt for activities that require you to get out of the house and move around, such as hiking or walking on the beach instead of sitting at home in front of the television or other sedentary pastimes. Practicing Yoga, Tai-Chi, dance, or marshal arts can also do wonders to help you focus and relax and beat the stress demons.

Learn a few relaxation techniques.
Visualization exercises, deep breathing, passive muscle relaxation, and meditation can all do wonders to help you feel relaxed and at peace, even when you are juggling difficult situations in other areas of your life. Most doctors keep information on wellness and relaxation, and can also help locate specialists who can teach these techniques. But sometimes simply taking some deep, slow breaths, or sitting back and concentrating on a peaceful scene for a few minutes when you feel especially frazzled can do wonders to help you refocus and fight those unpleasant feelings.

Get enough rest.
A well-rested body is far better able to fight the negative symptoms of stress than a poorly-rested body. Also, people who regularly get enough sleep tend to have better memories, complete tasks more efficiently, and suffer less emotional distress than those who do not. Finally, people who aren�t struggling to keep their eyes open halfway through the day are far less likely to reach for caffeinated beverages, which contribute to both GERD and stress symptoms. Remember these things when tempted to go on less sleep than you should, and that earlier bedtime will start to seem more attractive.

Have a little fun.
Doing something you enjoy can help you feel refreshed and regain your sense of calm. Watching a funny movie, spending time with a good friend, or working on a hobby that you love, or going to a party can cheer you up and take your mind off of what�s bothering you. Also, finding the humor in things during trying times can make life more fun and has been proven effective in battling stress.

Identify sources of stress.
If you know what tends to press your panic button and send you into a swirl of stress, you�ll be better prepared to deal with it, or you may choose to restructure your life so that fewer of these triggers are present. Keeping a stress diary � a notebook in which you can write what events or tasks seem to be associated with the most stressful, unpleasant feelings � can do wonders to help pinpoint what gets you worked up. Sometimes people don�t realize their triggers until they have been recording for long enough to recognize patterns, but taking the time to gain awareness will empower you to do something about your triggers.

See a specialist.
Sometimes, these measures are not enough to keep stress at bay, and it may be necessary to consult your doctor about other techniques for managing stress. Techniques like cognitive-behavioral therapy, talk therapy, support groups for people involved in difficult situations, and specific exercise, nutrition, medication, or other behavioral regimens require the help of others with training and commitment on your part, but can help you permanently undo some of the things that cause you to fall victim to the negative symptoms of stress.

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