Ever notice that when you are stressed or anxious or sad or angry you feel it in your “gut?” The obvious answer would be “YES.” The reason may not be so obvious or well-know. The enteric nervous system, which is located in the stomach is a kind of “mini-brain” that contains as many neurons (nerve cells) as the spinal cord and is connected to the brain in a two-way messenger system. The “gut” not only registers our emotions but helps shape them. When we feel these messages from the gut, people behave differently (sometimes being more hungry, sometimes not being hungry at all) and different emotions trigger different behaviors. For instance, when I’m stressed I tend to eat more and when I’m sad I tend to not want to eat. During a particularly sad day recently, I didn’t feel like I could eat anything almost all day. The next day, however, I found myself wanting comfort food. There was the “gut” telling me what to do again. One of my comfort foods, believe it or not, it is rice, beans, salsa, and avocado. I ordered it from my favorite local vegetarian restaurant, the Main Squeeze, and took it to Peace Park. Not only was my body craving healthy food to replace the lack of food from the day before, but it was craving solitude—a place outside and away from the cell phone and computer. It felt very healing to take care of myself in this healthy way, instead of turning to high salt, fat, or sugar foods that would have left my body feeling depleted and run down.
Listen to your “gut”—it has a lot to tell you about how you’re feeling. Your job is to be conscious about how you reply. Instead of reaching for the first food in sight, take a moment or two to pay attention to what the body is calling for. If it is food, what kind of food would really honor your body? If it is something else (solitude, movement, social support, laughter, rest, etc.), can you take even a moment or two to give yourself what you need? If you happen to be by Peace Park (or any park), take a stroll in this beautiful spring weather. It certainly calmed my stomach for a while.