The gut is also known as the gastrointestinal tract, which is the digestive tract from the mouth to the anus which includes all the organs of the digestive system in humans and other animals. The gut is a combination of the organs like the esophagus (also known as the food pipe), the stomach and the intestines.

Your brain can communicate stress to your enteric nervous system which controls the function of your gastrointestinal tract and lead you to feel ‘butterflies in your stomach’. Unfortunately, butterflies are not the only effect stress can have on your gut. Stress can also change the function of your gut bacteria which can affect your mood, as the gut’s nerves and bacteria can strongly affect the brain and vice versa.

Esophagus (food pipe)

When one is stressed, one can either eat much more or much less than usual. When stressed, our body releases cortisolwhich tells us to restore energy with energy-dense foods and carbs that cause us to crave comfort foods. Change of the diet or increase in tobacco or alcohol consumption can cause heartburn or acid reflux. Additionally, stress can increase the severity of the heartburn pain that individuals already experience. Intense stress may even cause spasms in the esophagus, leading individuals to think that they are having a heart attack. Stress may also cause difficulties in swallowing food or can cause individuals to swallow air which can result in burping, gassiness and bloating.


Stress can make pain, bloating, nausea, and other stomach discomfort felt more easily. When the stress is severe, it may even lead to vomiting. Moreover, stress can cause an unexpected increase or decrease in an individual’s appetite. Hence, unhealthy eating habits can affect one’s mood.


Stress can also cause pain, bloating, or discomfort to be felt more easily in the bowels. Stress can affect the speed we digest, how fast our food goes down; and this situation can lead to diarrhea or constipation. It is possible that stress cause muscle spasms in the bowels that can cause severe pain. Due to poor digestion and nutrient absorption, stress can also increase gas production.

Everyone can experience stress in different ways, and some individuals are more likely to live stress in their guts. Individuals who have gastrointestinal disorders like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or inflammatory bowel disease are much more sensitive to the physiological effects of stress, as their symptoms can be triggered by stress.

We often do not realise when we are stressed, as sometimes we even oversee it. However, the effects it has on our guts can negatively affect our mood, emotions, the way we think and our overall health. Our mind and body are always in communication with each other even though we are not aware of it. Stressful situations will always occur throughout life however, the important thing is how we choose to deal with them. To be more conscious of our health, and reduce the negative effects of stress, it is best to look out for the signals our bodies reflect from our minds and to go with our guts. 🙂

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Ela Jean Demir is a Bachelor of Psychology student at the Izmir University of Economics. She is currently an intern at Willingness.


Allen, A. P., Dinan, T. G., Clarke, G., & Cryan, J. F. (2017). A psychology of the human brain-gut-microbiome axis. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(4), e12309. doi:10.1111/spc3.12309 

Madison, A., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2019). Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Current opinion in behavioral sciences28, 105–110.

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2016). Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior.

Weir, K. (2018, December). The future of psychobiotics. Monitor on Psychology49(11).