The autonomic nervous system, which regulates all involuntary bodily processes, is divided into two systems with opposite actions: the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. These control the effects of stress and relaxation on the body. The sympathetic nervous system can sometimes release too many hormones and cause a high state of tension, while the parasympathetic nervous system works to reduce this excessive release of hormones, promoting relaxation.
Stress is both a cause and a consequence of digestive symptoms. It is a vicious circle. For example, having pain or urgency to go to the bathroom can cause a lot of stress. In turn, stress can worsen digestive symptoms by activating the sympathetic nervous system which releases hormones that can affect digestion, more specifically motility and visceral hypersensitivity.
Diaphragm breathing has been used for centuries. This is a very simple technique that allows you to relax, activate the parasympathetic nervous system and break the cycle of symptoms and stress. It has been shown to improve gut motility and reduce pain perception.
Here’s how to perform diaphragm breathing in four steps:
Note: When you feel proficient, you can try to perform this exercise while sitting or standing.