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General Medical Questions
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Question : My doctor tells me my stomach pain is the result of stress. What can I do to get relief?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Michael Craig Miller, M.D Michael Craig Miller, M.D., is Senior Editor of Mental Health Publishing at Harvard Health Publications. He is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Miller is in clinical practice at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he has been on staff for more than 25 years.

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September 06, 2013
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More than half of all people, at some time, have a stomach problem that has no clear cause. Pain, discomfort or embarrassment may limit activities and interfere with pleasure.

 

Stress can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms, and make them worse. During stress, the body reacts as if threatened. Digestion slows down. The body diverts energy to deal with the threat.

 

If stress is constant, the body’s stress response keeps operating. That can interfere with digestion. And lead to symptoms.

 

Psychotherapy may help ease such symptoms. It can also help you cope.

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to change counterproductive thoughts and behavior. It teaches coping skills for managing stress and anxiety.

 

Relaxation techniques help people curb their overreactions to stress. Techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and restful music.

 

Hypnosis combines deep relaxation with positive suggestions. Suggestions target stomach symptoms. For example, place your hands on your abdomen. Imagine a feeling of warmth and a sense of control over GI function.

 

Some of the approaches I described are widely available. Some techniques are easy to try on your own.

 

Any method known to ease stress can help a person with GI symptoms. That leads us back to some very basic health advice. Eat a proper diet. Exercise regularly. Get enough sleep.

 

Use any relaxation method that appeals to you. No one can eliminate all stress. It probably isn’t a good idea to try.

 

You can use some of these methods to keep your stress at a healthier level. And that may help your GI tract calm down too.

 

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