Stomach knots are one of those strange things that are hard to describe, but everyone knows exactly what it feels like to have one. They seem to show up when situations force feelings of uneasiness or stress, like owning up to a huge mistake you made at work or feeling threatened by your S.O.’s success. To better understand this phenomenon and learn how to get rid of that awful knot, we talked with Dr. Dan Dinenberg, who practices with One Medical in San Francisco. Use his tips to feel better ASAP.
What causes a stomach knot?
Dr. Dinenberg reminds us that the human body is “an elegant, closed-looped system in which the symptoms we feel are an expression of what’s going on inside our bodies.” He tells us that the “tied up” feeling we know all too well is actually an ancient physiological response to threat. “The intelligent design of our organs pushes blood away from digestion because, in essence, digestion is needed less for survival then being able to run away or fight.” Dr. Dinenberg tells us that most patients can see the relationship between the knot feeling and stress, noting that they experience it mostly when they’re nervous. Whoa, we didn’t know stress was taking such a crazy toll on our bodies.
Three ways to get rid of the terrible knot in your stomach
1. Enlist healthy self-talk. “Learning how to alter your thoughts and reactions in order to prevent the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for that fight-or-flight response, from being turned on in the first place can help make a difference,” Dr. Dinenberg says. “We actually CAN learn how to change our mindset about how we deal with stressful triggers.”
According to Dr. Dinenberg, healthy self-talk means reframing anxiety-provoking situations as opportunities, rather than threats. “For example,” he says, “telling yourself ‘I’m safe’ or ‘I’m loved’ both have positive associations instead of telling yourself to simply calm down, which is more negative in focus.” He suggests performing self-talk in the morning and throughout the day, as well as out loud for the most benefit. We recommend doing this in private so that you can really put some gusto behind the words, but you do you.
2. Be more mindful. Yoga, deep breathing and mindfulness exercises can seriously serve as a secret weapon when it comes to freeing yourself from stress and the knot in your stomach. Dr. Dinenberg explains why, saying, “When you do these things, you consciously activate the parasympathetic system to elicit a relaxation response. This signals the silent messenger system to turn off the sympathetic system.” Basically, relaxation ON, fight-or-flight OFF.
When it comes to yoga, any variety that leaves you feeling great should help. If you don’t have time for a full session or it’s not your jam, you might consider making simple posture adjustments or using an app like Headspace to quickly and effectively meditate yourself into a more relaxed state.
3. Practice self-awareness. Dr. Dinenberg couldn’t say enough about the benefits of being self-aware, cluing us in on the fact that monitoring your emotions regularly is critical to creating a system that lets you know when things feel off — before physical symptoms of unease have a chance to creep in. “The quicker you become aware that this is happening, the sooner you can respond by using one of the first two methods and the easier it’ll be to reverse the effects of the stress response,” he says.
To become more self-aware than you are today, Dr. Dinenberg says to engage in an internal mindfulness body-scan. To do it, lie down in a relaxed position and take three to five minutes to become aware of the different parts of your body and how they feel. “Start at the top of your head and work down to your toes,” he instructs. “This lets you get in touch with your body, release stress-inducing feelings and any pent-up emotions.”
What causes you to get a knot in your stomach? Share your stress-busting tips @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)