When you’re enjoying a plate of your favorite nachos with extra jalapenos, it’s almost inevitable that a concerned friend will warn you of your impending fate. You know it’s coming too. Heartburn will inevitably find its way to you after enjoying a spicy meal. You know the risk of increased acid levels, so you brace for it.
What about the heartburn you didn’t earn? What about the heartburn that occurs seemingly out of nowhere? Could there be a root cause that has nothing to do with the plate in front of you? Like so many puzzling symptoms, heartburn can sometimes be traced back to stress.
So, what exactly is stress? How does it affect your body? For that matter, what exactly is heartburn? And, are the two related? If so, how can we combat both? Let’s find out.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a part of our lives. Sometimes we recognize it, and sometimes we don’t. Stress is the emotional response and the physical tension we feel when we encounter an event that challenges us or makes us feel frustrated, nervous, fearful, or angry. It occurs when our bodies try to answer the call of a difficult situation.
We also know this response as the “fight or flight” response. Our bodies tense to prepare us to spring into action whenever our brains decide whether we will face the situation or run away from it. When we have a deadline at work, our bodies will push to face the situation and make it through. When we encounter a possible collision on the road, our bodies quickly alter course to avoid or “run away” from the impact.
While stress gets a bad reputation most of the time, stress in small doses can actually be helpful. In fact, its intended purpose is to keep us safe, and it can actually be good for us. When we have too much stress or just a constant stream of stress, it can be the harmful bad guy we all know. But, as they say, too much of a good thing turns bad. So, what exactly does stress do to the body?
What Does Stress Do to the Body?
Stress in its original and most basic form is a motivator. When we depended on our awareness to survive the day, stress was there for us in the clutch. If you sense real danger, your brain will initiate a chemical reaction throughout the body to get it ready to act on the threat. For some people, this can cause them to freeze in place and make them virtually unable to act. For others, stress may increase stomach acid.
In our modern times, our stress can still come in handy when there is a real and immediate danger, but unfortunately, when we deal with difficult situations, our brains perceive danger where a threat does not exist. Whether real or simply perceived, our brains react the same way without differentiating between the two, and our bodies respond as our brains tell them.
When the brain detects danger, it uses our autonomic nervous system to tell the rest of the body to get ready. This system gives directions to your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system responds to the threat and gives you the energy to respond. The parasympathetic will be there to make you feel calm when you’re safe from danger.
Your sympathetic nervous system will pump adrenaline into your body, and your heart will beat faster to supply your muscles and organs with more blood. Your breathing will get faster, and your senses tend to get sharper.
Your body will continue to respond to the stress by releasing more sugar and stress hormones like cortisol into your bloodstream to keep you awake and alert. Every system in your body responds, and the longer the stress persists, the larger the impact.
This negative impact of long-term stress is why reducing stress is so important.
Some common signs of stress in the body include:
- Racing heart
- Trouble sleeping
- Higher blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Digestive problems
With so many problems associated with stress, it’s not surprising that heartburn causes can come from stress too, but what is heartburn anyway?
What Is Heartburn?
You may have experienced heartburn symptoms without really understanding what it is exactly. You can ascertain what it feels like simply from its name. Heartburn feels like a burning sensation, but it isn’t actually associated with your heart.
The burning sensation comes from irritation in your esophagus. Your esophagus is the tube between your throat and your stomach that connects them. As you can probably guess, this area runs along behind your breastbone, and that’s why the irritation can simulate a problem with your heart.
The irritation of the esophagus is caused by stomach acid. The burning sensation is typically felt in your upper belly, and it can be felt in the middle of your chest. Other heartburn triggers are:
- Chest pain when you bend over
- Chest pain when you lie down
- A hot, acidic taste in the back of the throat - sometimes salty or bitter
- Swallowing feels difficult
- Anxious feelings
- Hyperventilating or panic attacks
How long you’re afflicted with the pain of frequent heartburn can vary. It may only last a few minutes, or you may find yourself in pain for hours from it.
Causes of heartburn can vary as well, but it’s mostly associated with foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, onions, garlic, caffeinated beverages, chocolate, or alcohol. If your meals are fatty, spicy, and are high in oils, your symptoms may also emerge primarily.
Outside of the foods we choose to digest, there are a few other common causes of heartburn. If you’re making all the right food choices and still experiencing heartburn, you might want to consider some of the following culprits:
- Dips in emotions
- Lack of sleep
- Pregnancy hormones
If you think stress could be what’s causing your heartburn, what can you do to combat the stress diagnosis and give yourself some heartburn relief as well?
What Can You Do To Combat Stress?
In his book, Dune, Frank Herbert states, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is a little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear.” Stress takes a similar toll on us, and we must face it in order to overcome it. If we can combat our stress, we may find that the symptoms like heartburn subside.
Here are some two-fold solutions to combat stress to reduce your heartburn.
1 - Prioritize Sleep
Getting enough sleep can help you recover from the stress of the day. It can provide you with the rest your muscles need from their tense state during times of stress, and sleep helps just about every system in your body recover and settle down. Meditation or other relaxation techniques do the same as well.
If stress is causing sleep complications, you might consider a supplement like Complete Calm Sleep Gummies to help naturally lull you to sleep.
In addition to some healing hours of quality sleep, the Complete Calm Sleep Gummies containing melatonin may help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with heartburn. Melatonin has shown promising results in easing reflux symptoms.
2 - Reduce Caffeine Consumption
Too much caffeine can make you feel stressed. It can also exacerbate your heartburn. Reducing your caffeine consumption may help reduce your heartburn, and it may help reduce your stress levels if that’s the cause of your heartburn.
Whether the caffeine or the stress is to blame won’t matter much to you as long as you feel better and reduce that irritation in your esophagus. Putting down that third or fourth cup of coffee for the day may be all you need to do for a bit of relief.
3 - Exercise
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress, and you can achieve stress-busting results in just 30 minutes per day. To help with your heartburn, lifestyle changes such as exercise can also be the answer. All you need is a few mild exercises like yoga, walking, light jogging, or swimming. Shedding a few pounds in the process of forming new habits in your daily lives may help with your heartburn even more.
4 - Supplemental Relief
When you’re stressed and experiencing heartburn, you may not feel fully equipped to handle it either. Thankfully, you don’t have to get your entire life under control to find some relief. The Complete Calm System can help combat stress you feel throughout the day and work to simultaneously help fight heartburn with the limonene found in the unique day terpene blend.
In combination with melatonin, the nighttime formula contains chamomile, which also helps reduce stomach acid. It’s nice to know that you don’t have to face stress or heartburn empty-handed.
Heartburn happens. It’s just a fact of life and spice. However, it can feel like it comes from nowhere sometimes. The next time you have unexplained heartburn or indigestion, you might want to take a closer look at your stress levels. Could you stand to de-stress a bit? Your esophagus might just benefit from a bit of rest and relaxation, like the rest of your body.
Meet our Experts
This article has been reviewed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Jay Cowin, Nutrition Expert
Founder of Functional U, a Nutrition, Performance & Optimal Health practice.
Dominick Gauthier, Performance Expert
Former Olympic Athlete, Founder, B2ten Foundation (coach to multiple Olympic Champions)