The Link Between GERD and Stress

By Stu Leo︱Published October 29, 2017

The Link Between Stress and GERD/LPR

Studies have shown that there is a connection between GERD/LPR and stress. GERD patients generally have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. (1) (2) On top of that, GERD sufferers who are chronically anxious and stressed out can develop a hypersensitive throat, which makes even harmless stimuli feel painful. (3Stress is also known to affect gastrointestinal tract function. Continued feelings of stress is a common cause of indigestion symptoms. (7

Job-related stress is also significant. One study reported that high job demands, job strain, time pressure, and low job satisfaction are associated with a higher risk for GERD. (4) People who have low job satisfaction can have twice the risk of developing GERD compared to those who have high job satisfaction. (4

PTSD(post-traumatic stress disorder) is also known to increase the risk of GERD. A study done on post-911 survivors found that more than 30% suffered from GERD. (6

How Stress affects the body

A chemical called cortisol is released into our bodies whenever we get stressed. Cortisol is responsible for something called the fight-or-flight response.

During the fight-or-flight phenomenon, most of our blood is redirected to the areas we need it most in order to escape or fight imminent danger. So in one sense, stress is a good thing because it can keep us focused, alert, and even save our lives, but too much of it can be detrimental to our bodies.

Being in a constant state of “fight-or-flight” negatively impacts the immune system, digestive system, reproductive system, and can lead to problems like headaches, heart disease, sleep disorders, and memory impairment. (8) (9) (10Stress has also been shown to throw off the balance of good bacteria in our gut. This can lead to inflammation and the growth of bad bacteria like E. coli and C. jejuni. (11)

Now that we’ve covered how stress can lead to GERD/LPR symptoms and impact the body, let’s take a look at 10 ways to relieve stress for reflux relief.

1. Nature

It seems that it was only one or two generations ago when we actually went outside and did stuff rather than binge-watch Netflix and surf the web on our smartphones all day. We took walks in the park, rode around the neighborhood on our bikes with friends, and went camping—it was fun.

It turns out that our former way of recreation may be more healthy. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors and doing activities like hiking, fishing, farming, gardening, and petting animals can actually de-stress the body and promote a healthy lifestyle. (12) (13)

One study showed that exercising outdoors in the presence of nature and greenery increases feelings of revitalization compared with indoor exercise. (14) Another study showed that strolling through a forest can lower cortisol, blood pressure, and parasympathetic nerve activity. (15)

Bringing nature indoors can also relieve stress. Studies have shown that adding greenery indoors provides a positive work environment, promotes health, and lowers stress. (16) (17) Even nature sounds were found to significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, agitation, and anxiety. (18)

2. Deep Breathing Exercises

Deep breathing is another tool that can be used to lower stress and promote a healthy lifestyle. One study found that deep breathing training can reduce severe stress symptoms that are similar to PTSD. Participants in the 8-week study reported improved sleep, stress resilience, better emotional control, and better energy levels after deep breathing training. (19) (20)

I enjoy deep breathing during walks in my local park. First, I take a slow breath in. Then, when I exhale, I envision all my stress and negative emotions leaving my body and getting released into the ground. I usually repeat this process a few of times until I feel relaxed.

3. Exercise

Did you know that exercise reduces stress and depression? Studies have shown that exercise reduces stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol and raises the number of feel-good, pain-killing chemicals in our bodies called endorphins. Regular aerobic exercise can lower feelings of anxiety and depression (21)

4. Surround yourself with Friends

Did you know that depression and anxiety are linked to high smartphone use? (22) (23) Studies have shown that the use of smartphones can reduce our ability to engage in healthy conversations with people.

The problem with smartphones is that they create a false sense of companionship. Yes, you can interact with people through messages on a screen, but at the end of the day, they’re not really in front of you—you’re really just interacting with a screen. There’s a strange loneliness to that.

By the way, as you may know, loneliness is a significant cause of stress in life. It’s associated with conditions like poor sleep, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and migraines. A good way to fight this kind of stress is to ditch the smartphone for a couple of hours, go outside, and spend time with friends.

Studies have shown that people who develop meaningful relationships and interact with people face-to-face regularly are more healthy and live longer.

On the other hand, some studies have found that people who aren’t connected to communities have a 50% greater chance of dying. (24)

So give it a shot. Invite a friend to a game of racquetball. Or, if you don’t have many friends, go meet some new people. Sign up for a community-based activity, like a swing dance class. Anything that encourages you to go out and have face-to-face interactions is good.

5. Music

Listening to music is a popular and effective way to relieve stress. Many studies have shown that music can lower stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol production in the body. Listening to music has also been associated with lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and better pain control. (25)

So the next time you’re in a stressful situation, try playing a couple of your favorite tunes. It might just help you relax!

6. Get Spiritual—if that’s your thing

Another effective strategy to beat stress is to get involved in a religious or spiritual community. Studies have shown that religious activities are associated with lower risk for depression, substance abuse, suicide, and even dementia. (26) (27) (28)

The concepts of knowing the meaning of life and forgiveness play a significant role in managing stress. Meaning of life was found to lower anxiety and promote mental health, while the concept of forgiveness provided an outlet for emotional release and imparted comfort, hope, and peace. (29)  

7. Aromatherapy

Interestingly, smelling pleasant smells can relieve stress too. Research has shown that aromatherapy can reduce pain, depression, anxiety, and generally lower stress levels. Aromatherapy has also been associated with inducing a positive mood in people and soothing negative emotions (30)

You can conduct your own aromatherapy sessions at home by getting a diffuser and essential oils. Lavender and are great choices because they are natural anti-depressants and relaxants. (30)

8. Slow Down

Our modern, tech-soaked culture can make us rush through life and live a lifestyle of stress without even realizing it.  Constantly speeding through life can create a lot of unnecessary stress in our lives.

One mental trick that really helps me slow down when I’m stressed out is to do things in slow motion—literally. I imagine myself in a Hollywood action film where something dramatic is happening, and simply do whatever I’m doing at half speed. It might look silly, but I’ve found it can be quite meditative.

Try it. Next time you catch yourself stressing out and rushing through a task, take a minute or two to perform whatever you’re doing in slow motion(obviously, be safe).

Take slow deep breaths from your diaphragm while moving at about half speed. I think you’ll be surprised at how effective this little trick is!

9. Massage

We all know that a massage can help with injuries and muscle tension, but did you know that it can also lower stress, depression, and fatigue? (32) One study done on female office workers showed that a scalp massage for 15 and 25 minutes lowered stress, blood pressure, and heart rate. (33)

Even babies apparently benefit from moderate-pressure massage. One study found that moderate-pressure massage increased weight gain in preterm infants, enhanced their attentiveness, as well as reduced depression, pain, and stress. (34) (35)

Thai massage has been noted for its effectiveness on psychological stress and heart rate variability. (36)

10. Physical Affection

Did you know that highly affectionate people tend to experience better mental health? (37) Studies have found that physical affection and sexual interaction reduces stress and improves mood. (38)

Even verbal affection is associated with a healthy heart rate and lower cortisol. (39)

So there you have it. Now you have an excuse to get more touchy-feely with your significant other.

It’s healthy!

Final Thoughts

If you have stubborn, chronic GERD that doesn’t seem to go away no matter what remedy or medication you try, perhaps your reflux is induced by stress.

If that’s the case, it can be helpful to sit down and identify what the stressors in your life are. Removing stress triggers in your life may help resolve your GERD/LPR symptoms.

Make a list and ask yourself some honest questions.

What’s weighing your heart down? Is it coming from a broken relationship? A dead-end job? Self-hate? Low self-esteem?

It’s good to ask tough questions and reflect so you can get down to the root of your problem and journey towards healing.

Then make a change. If a messed-up relationship causes depression, stress, and strife in your life, then perhaps you need to break it off.

Or maybe you need to forgive and reconcile with that person.

If you feel like your job is assaulting your soul, then maybe you need to go back to school or work on developing a skill/trade you’re actually passionate about.

Be proactive. It might be hard, but don’t give up.

A healthy life is worth the sacrifice.

*This post may contain affiliate links. See my disclosure here.