Ep 6: Use the Gut Brain Connection to Your IBD Advantage

The gut-brain connection is a fascinating topic, but for IBD gals, concepts like the gut-brain connection, the second brain, and the vagus nerve get catapulted to a whole new level.

Join me on this podcast episode, as we geek out on all things gut-brain connection, and then we take it even one step further by finding out the latest on what Harvard Medical School doctors are saying is different about how those of us with IBD can use this gut-brain phenomenon to our IBD advantage. Seriously awesome information!

We’ll talk about:

  • The typical gut-brain connection everyone has
  • How IBDer’s have a slightly different gut-brain connection than non-IBDer’s
  • How you can use this difference to your IBD advantage

And so much more!

After this episode, you’ll know the exact steps you can take to use the gut-brain connection and your vagus nerve to help lessen your IBD symptoms. Powerful stuff!

Episode at a Glance:

  • [02:53] The gut-brain connection is so vital to our overall well being and our gut health. Learn about how the second brain in our gut controls our thoughts, feeling and emotions.
  • [05:61] According to scientists at Harvard Medical School, this gut-brain connection is especially true for people with IBD because we already have distress in our intestines, so anything we feel with this gut brain connection, we will actually feel it deeper,
  • [07:29] Harvard Medical School scientists also show that when we have IBD, we actually respond to therapies that focus on stress reduction, anxiety reduction, depression, intervention more readily than our non IBD counterparts.
  • [09:51] We can harness this vagus nerve to our advantage. We can hone and improve the connection our gut and brain has, and we can lesson our IBD symptoms by learning how to affect change at this level.
  • [10:26] Belly breathing has been shown as one of those therapies that can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, even our pain response, inflammation levels, and it can even strengthen our immune system, plus belly breathing goes even further than just gut level healing, it can also lower our heart rate and our blood pressure.
  • [13:40] Belly breathing technique number one is the 4-7-8 breath. Let’s try this technique out together.
  • [17:11] Belly breathing technique number two, is called Four Square. Four Square is a steadying and grounding breath. Let’s try this technique together.
  • 19:15 Our last belly breathing technique is called the Double Exhale breath. It’s good for breathing to relieve panic or anxiety or even really strong pain that you’re having. Let’s go ahead and try last this technique together.
  • [24:24] How you can do it like a mom? You can do this like a mom by picking one of the techniques, commit to trying it daily, for the next seven days, and observe how you feel. Extra points if you teach it to your kids too.
  • [26:11] Go to karynhaley.com to schedule your very own free 30-minute IBD root cause troubleshooting session with me where we discuss the challenges you’ve been having, we set goals to help you move forward, and we talk about how we can work together to help you get your life back.

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Episode Links:

Use the Gut-Brain Connection to Your IBD Advantage

[music] [00:05] INTRO You’re listening to The Cheeky Podcast for Moms with IBD, a safe space where moms with Crohn’s and colitis connect, explore powerful tools for healing and transform our lives to thrive in motherhood and in life. I’m your host, Karyn Haley, IBD health coach, integrative wellness enthusiast, and mom to three outstanding kids. After having Crohn’s disease for 30 years and working as a health advocate exclusively with IBD clients for the last 10 years, I know it’s time to bring the types of candid conversations I have with my clients out into the open. It’s our time to go on an IBD healing journey and do it like only a mom can. Let’s do this.

[music] [00:52] Well, hello, dear one, welcome to episode number six in the cheeky podcast. In this episode, it’s time for us to have a total psychological geek-out session, I get positively giddy with this topic, I’m not even kidding, I get just fascinated by the whole world of psychology in the Study of Brain… I studied it as one of my majors in undergrad, and then I studied Health Psychology in graduate school, so today’s topic for me, it just puts me completely in my happy place when I get to marry psychology and IBD. It’s true. It’s elation for me.

And we’re going to uncover some absolutely fascinating information today, I can’t wait.

So let’s dive into our topic for this episode, the gut brain connection and how we can use it to our IBD advantage.

Is the Second Brain More Important Then the First One?

[01:45] Let’s go ahead and start with this connection between the gut and the brain, have you heard that we don’t actually just have one brain in our body, we have two, and we have this brain, of course, the one that everyone is familiar with, the one on our head, but we also have one that’s often termed by scientists who study that gut brain axis as the second brain, woo-hoo-woo, the second brain and this brain is housed in our gut.

As you can imagine, growing up with a mom like me who was on the one side, a gut health enthusiast and then also a lover of all things, psychology of the brain, my kids were always hearing about this gut brain connection, and of course, the second brain.

Kids Say the Darndest Things!

[02:43] I remember when my youngest was in first grade. He was learning all about the parts of the human body in school, when they got to the brain, he raised his hand and he promptly asked the teacher, When are we going to talk about our other brain? So this thoroughly confused his teacher, and then a 20-minute argument ensued between my kid and the teacher… And, after that, I got a call from said teacher asking me what nonsense was I teaching my kid at home. Thankfully, after a little bit of chatting about it, after hearing my explanation, the teacher became intrigued and she was open to me coming into the classroom to talk to the kids about this second brain of ours, so I think that it was definitely a cool learning experience for the kids in his first grade classroom, but it was also a learning experience for me because I learned that I might need to tell my son that talking about the second brain school isn’t always going to be a welcome or an understood topic.

So the second brain, the one it’s housed in our gut, it’s not like there’s actually brain matter there, but it does deserve its name. Did you know there’s actually more nerves housed in the gut than there is in the brain, did you know that our gut actually has a thinking and feeling mechanism? How else can we explain a gut feeling? How else can we explain the butterflies in our stomach before an important doctor’s appointment? How can we explain the nauseous feeling we get in our gut when we hear bad news? How about the physical pain we might feel in our stomach when we’re stressed out? The guy is called in the second brain because we actually think and feel there, and the reason we do is because of an amazing nervous system pathway that connects to the brain and the gut, called the vagus nerve. I love talking about the vagus nerve. This communication super highway, it’s constantly sending signals back and forth, connecting the thoughts and the feelings we’re having between our brain in our gut… Go ahead, go ahead right now and just touch the back of your head at the base where your head ends and your spine begins… I’m doing it now, so we’re doing it together, go ahead and touch there. This is the beginning of this nerve system circuitry, this is the beginning of that vagus nerve, I’m talking about. This mass nerve ending system, it begins here, but then it spindles its way through several organ systems down through our body, it goes through the heart, and then it makes its way into the digestive system, and it ends in the colon, the gut brain axi and the second brain, it wouldn’t be possible without this super communication highway, that biggest nerve.

[05:55] For most people, the cool factor of the vagus nerve and our second brain, it ends there and… That’s pretty cool, right? I’m thinking you’re agreeing with me, that it’s a pretty cool system that we have this connection between our gut in our brain, but here’s where the situation gets down right ingenious for those of us with IBD.

Those Harvard Geniuses Know More Than We Do.

According to scientists at Harvard Medical School, this gut-brain connection is especially true for us because we already have distress in our intestines, so anything we feel with this gut brain connection, you know those butterflies, the nausea, the stress, the pain, because we have intestinal distress, we will actually feel it deeper, people who have GI disorders, we perceive pain more acutely because our brains are more responsive to pain signals from our gastrointestinal tract, and when we feel stress or anxiety, it makes the pain in our gut feel even worse…

Seriously. Fascinating, right?

You might be thinking, well, dang that kind of sucks for me. It’s great that now I understand why I feel those gut emotions so deeply, but there’s only negatives associated with it, there’s no positive, there’s more pain, more stress, more anxiety, there’s no positive spin there… Here’s what I where I want to challenge you. I want to challenge your thinking on this a little bit, because on the surface, if we just look the surface here, it might seem like a downside, but actually I think it’s pretty cool that we know ourselves, so well, most people don’t have a clue.

Most people don’t have a clue how they’re gut and brain connects, they don’t feel it like we do, they don’t feel it with the kind of intensity we feel, the kind of intensity we feel with these feelings and emotions.

The Best News of All.

So on the flip side of this bad news is that because of that, we feel things so deeply in our gut, and according to those same Harvard Medical School scientists, when we have IBD, we actually respond to therapies that focus on stress reduction, anxiety reduction, depression, intervention more readily than our non IBD counterparts.

So there is the flip side. There’s the cool part here.

[08:23] And studies abound, it’s not just the smarties at Harvard, other smart scientists who have replicated this work in their own research, they’ve also replicated the psychological approaches that are helpful to decrease digestive symptoms, and now you know, now you know the why behind why psychology and IBD, they go together when the psychology of all of this can really be our best friend here.

Now, so often, so often doctors want to dismiss us with statements like, You’re just too emotional, or those symptoms, they’re all in your head, or the pain you’re describing… I know it isn’t that bad, but we know different… We know now that our bodies are actually designed that way, and I propose, I propose it’s time for us to use this design to our IBD advantage. Now we have the insight. And insight is great, right? We know the why, we have the insight, knowing why something is happening and it’s the first step, but it’s only just the beginning, if we know we have a strong gut brain, vagus nerve connection, if we know we’re more likely to benefit from psychological intervention here, now we need to think about what do we do about it.

What Can We Do to Use This Information to our IBD Advantage?

[09:51] Can we, maybe harness this Vegas nerve to our advantage, can we actually hone and improve the connection our gut and brain has, could we even dare I say lesson our IBD symptoms by learning how to affect change at this level? This neurological level?

Yes, yes, yes, we can. We can even get started on that right here, right now, with one of the absolute easiest techniques out there, no special equipment needed, just you and your breath. When it comes to truly affecting this gut brain connection and helping our IBD symptoms, belly breathing, that breathing from the diaphragm, it’s been shown as one of those therapies that can help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, even our pain response, inflammation levels, and it can even strengthen our immune system, plus belly breathing goes even further than just gut level healing, it can also lower our heart rate and our blood pressure, that’s just too many wins for me, you gotta count me in, I hope it counts you in too. Deep breathing is a technique that I use all the time. I love this method, I have been using it for years now, and I’ve grown to absolutely love it. And reap the benefits from it. In my IBD life, using the gut brain connection to our IBD advantage, number one, it works within the moment, acute stress, acute pain, acute anxiety, acute depression, when that just hits you, you least expected it hits you, it’s acute, it’s strong, it’s in the moment and deep breathing can work for that.

Number two, when you do it regularly, it will also work for the chronic type of issues you might be having like ongoing stress, ongoing pain, anxiety and depression, you might be feeling. And best of all, number 3 here with this belly breathing technique, the one I’m going to show you today, you can do it anywhere. Any time. Any place. And no one even knows you’re doing it. Awesome sauce. Can I get an Amen? Let’s do it. Let’s go ahead and do it. Let’s get started using my top belly breathing techniques right now, I’m going to teach you my top three.

[12:28] Alright, are you comfortable? It’s always great to be comfortable when you do belly breathing, so just kind of wiggle around in your seat or if you’re walking around the kitchen, take a seat for a second. If you’re driving in the car, be careful with this because I don’t want you to get too comfortable, but get comfortable.

Alright, are you ready for a transformation?

Let’s do this, let’s do this like a mom, and let’s do it wherever you are right now. Belly breathing technique number one is the 4-7-8 breath. I like to start this breath out with an out-breath, just to clear the lungs, so go ahead and take a breath in and out.

Okay, with this breath, we breathe into our nose for four seconds, we hold it for seven seconds, and then we let it out through our mouth for eight seconds. In for four, hold for seven, out for eight. Let’s do it.

It will be even better for you if you place one hand on your belly, right where your diaphragm is, because you want to make sure that’s where the breath is coming from, not from up in your chest, so go ahead if you can, if you’re not driving, place a hand on your belly.

If you can, and you’re in a place where you can do it, it also is helpful to really go in and to go in and we close our eyes. So go ahead and just close your eyes, let your breath release again with a whoosh or a sigh, and breathing through your nose for account for two, three, four. Hold it, two, three, four, five, six, seven. And out through the mouth… two three, four, five, six, seven, eight.

Good job.

Now, I want to mention two things to you, two things that will help you take this breath to the next level, number one, if you can… When you’re doing this breath, you want to go ahead and put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth, go ahead and do that now, so you can kind of get that feeling. And this is called fire point, it’s an energy point in Chinese medicine, you can keep your tongue there throughout the breath, and then the other option for you is to let out a louder than normal whooshing sound when you exhale out. Okay, both of these options for this breath are just that, options because it depends, if people are around, I said You could do these breaths anywhere and you can, but sometimes it’s a little bit difficult when you’re making loud noises, so you probably don’t want to do this using the whooshing sound in a work meeting or at a family dinner, but if you’re by yourself, I would go for it, go for it. With those two options, let’s go ahead and try the 4-7-8 breath one more time together with these two things, with the tongue on the roof of your mouth, right behind your front teeth, and with the whooshing sound. Here we go, ready? hand on your belly, close your eyes if you can. relax and breathe in. Two, three, four. And hold it. Two, three, four, five, six, seven. Let it go two, three, four, five. 6-7, 8. How’d you do?

Nice, good job.

Okay, my advice for the 4-7-8 breath is to do it first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed, four times in a row, and then four times in a row again before you go to bed. It helps you unwind.

It’s amazing, it’s amazing how this particular breath, it helps you wake up in the morning and get sleepy at night, plus I’ve also used it successfully in the moment with that in-the moment, pain or in the moment stress, when I feel like I’m going to lose it that kind of stress.

You’ve probably never had that feeling as a mom but just in case you ever have it… Yeah, you can use this breath there too.

Breathing Technique # 2

[17:11] Let’s talk about belly breathing technique number two, it’s called Four Square, Four Square is a steadying and grounding breath. That’s why I love it, because as mom’s so much of the time… We need some grounding, right? Or just kind of living “aahhhh” the time. I can’t think of a better way to describe it than “aahhhh”, so that grounding, that centering, that steadying breath can be really helpful.

It involves breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, again, holding for four, and then repeating. See how rhythmic that is, it’s an all-in counts of four, so it’s very… a rhythmic type of breathing, it’s very… Steadying, grounding and calming. Let’s go ahead and give this one a try. Remember, if you’re at a place where you can get comfortable and close your eyes, hand on your diaphragm, can breathe in two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. Let it out. Two, three, four. And hold two, three, four.

One more time. In two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. And out two, three, four.

How did that go for you?

I think that that one I was counting a little bit fast, I would love for you to just when you’re doing it on your own, I’d like for you to do that just a little bit slower, like one, two, three, four more like that, but you get the idea for grounding. For centering. For stabilizing… four square, it’s a good one.

Okay, so just like the 4-7-8 breath, this one you would want to repeat with a repetition of four… That’s a great place to start. And see if it works for you. You can use it anytime, anywhere…

One More Breath Exercise Before We Wrap Up.

[19:15] Our last belly breathing technique, it’s called the double exhale breath.

It’s good for breathing to relieve panic or anxiety that you’re having that, acute panic or anxiety or even really strong pain that you’re having, it will work on the panic and anxiety to help move you away from the panic, and I love it because it helps you in relaxed stages, it helps you relax yourself in stages, when you’re having a moment, when you’re having that panic or anxiety moment and you feel your heart is racing and you feel like you just can’t calm down. There’s just no way that you could go from 10 level to one in one breath.

So this particular breath lets you calm down slowly, and I love it for pain as well, especially abdominal pain, when you’re feeling that pain, it’s never going to go from 10 scale to one in one second, right? Or even in one breath, so with this technique, you go down in stages once you work it in stages, so when you’re having either of those issues, I really like the double exhale breath.

The Double exhale breath, it involves a good belly breath in for a count of two, and then you breathe out that same amount of time doubled, so from two, you would breathe out for… For the next breath, we breathe in for three seconds, and then out for six seconds, and then you can see the pattern here for the next one in four seconds and out at… We continue In and Out, multiplying by two with every inhale exhale until we start to feel more calm, more relaxed, and  until we start to feel like we have less pain. Let’s go ahead and try it. We’re going to start with a two four breath, and then a 3/6 and then a 4/8. alright, are you relaxed? Are you comfortable? Do you have your hand on your diaphragm, and if you can, you can close your eyes, let’s go head and breathe in to… I like to hold it for a second here, and then let it out, two, three, four, hold for a second and breath in to the hold and out two, three, four, five, six, hold. And breath in two, three, four. And hold and out. Two, three, four. You can do it 6-7-8. how’d you do? Good job. So you can see, that’s how you would use that breath, it’s always in for a count and then out for double and keep increasing it, see how that goes in those stages.

[22:10] Alright, there you go.

There you have it, the three belly breaths that you can use to get your gut brain axis in check and use it to your IBD advantage.

Let’s Recap.

Let’s go ahead and you recap everything we talked about today, number one, we all have a gut brain connection, the connection occurs through a nerve circuit communications super highway called the vagus nerve. Number two, because of this connection, we have what scientists refer to it as the second brain housed in or get, just tell your kids not to mention it at school.

Number three, we’re a little different than our non-IBD counterparts because we feel things like pain, stress, anxiety and depression more deeply, we feel it more deeply in our gut than others, the situation can be damning for some, not for us, because we know how to strengthen this highway of super communication.

Number four, we can use our psychology to decrease our stress response, our anxiety response, or depression symptoms, inflammation levels, it can help our immune system, our pain levels, and ultimately we can use it to our IBD advantage.

One of the easiest methods we can employ to bring this change about is deep belly breathing, there’s many types of breathing exercises out there, but the three that we learn today are the 4-7-8 breath, the four square breath and the double exhale breath.

So how are you feeling?

[23:54] I hope you’re feeling relaxed. If these breathing techniques are completely new for you, you might not be feeling any positive response yet, it can take some time, keep at it, Keep trying it, and it will become more natural, it will become easier for you. And over time, you will begin to notice that it helps with many of the symptoms you experienced both physical and emotional symptoms.

Lastly, we’ve got to close this out by talking about how you can do it like a mom. You can do this like a mom by picking one of the techniques, commit to trying it daily, let’s say for the next seven days, observe how you feel, observe what you think about it, and if you’re feeling extra inspired, go ahead and teach one of these techniques to your kids… My favorite, the favorite one I like to teach to my kids is the 4-7-8 breath, I’m often heard in the house saying something like, Would you like to take a moment with a 4-7-8 breathing? I think a consequence might be coming your way, sometimes kids and especially teenagers, they just need to take a moment to collect themselves before saying something they might regret. And by the way, it works for adults too. I’ve used it there as well, don’t forget, pick one of the belly breathing techniques we talked about today and try it out, try it for a week, and if you do… Will you please let me know how it goes? Until we chat again, I’m wishing you a cheeky and healthy IBD journey.

Thank you so much for joining me today and for listening to today’s episode, when it comes to IBD, I know there’s a lot of resources out there, and I’m truly honored that you chose the tacky podcast to get your IBD information today.

If you found this information helpful, please give us a rating and review, it helps other moms find the podcast and see what we’re doing over here to help Moms everywhere. And if you feel called to do it, share this podcast with an IBD mom who you know could really use an uplifting message today, ’cause that’s what we’re all about over here at the Cheeky podcast.

Are you Ready to Take your Gut Healing to the Next Level?

[26:11] One last thing, if you’re still with me, and if you are, you’re definitely my kind of gal, we have to get to know each other better, ’cause if you’re tired of living on the hamster wheel of IBD with all the ups and downs between flares and remission, if you’re struggling to get control of your abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea and other troubling IBD symptoms, go over my website, it’s Karynhaley.com, and my mom had to be just a little bit different of my name with a Y… So it’s K-A-R-Y-H-A-L-E-Y dot com. And schedule your very own free 30-minute IBD root cause trouble shooting session with me where we discuss the challenges you’ve been having, we set goals to help you move forward, and we talk about how we can work together to help you get your life back. It’s a power-packed 30 minutes. You don’t have to live in IBD status quo. There’s so much that can be done to transform your life so you can thrive in motherhood and thrive with IBD.

I’ve seen my clients walk this path, and it gives me so much joy to take that journey with them. My entire coaching practice is run online, so you never have to leave your house and you never have to get out of your jammy pants for us to work together, you know, I’m wearing them to… If you’re ready to take your first amazing step towards healing, I’m ready to chat with you, schedule your free 30-minute IBD, root cause trouble shooting sesh today at Karynhaley.Com. Click on the work with me tab and I’ll see you soon. It’s important to note that the information in this podcast and in this episode is for general information purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The statements made in the Cheeky podcast for moms with IBD, either by me or my guests, is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Before implementing any new treatment protocols, do yourself a favor and consult your physician first. thank you so much for listening, for being here, for saving this space for us to spend some time together until we chat again, I’m wishing you a cheeky and healthy IBD journey.


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