Almost all of us have experienced that tight, churning sensation in our stomachs under stress. You may have felt it before an interview, a big test, or just before stepping on stage for a public speech—the feeling like your stomach has tied itself up into a big, nervous knot.
It’s the perfect demonstration of how your brain and gut are closely connected, and often, it couldn’t happen at a more inconvenient time!
While some gentle stomach flutters can be exciting (even pleasant) before a big event, stomach knots are often just another unpleasant thing to deal with when you’re already feeling stressed. If you’re all too familiar with the heavy, twisted feeling, the Getting a Knot in Your Stomach Stress Coaching Card is for you.
In this blog, I’ll explain what’s happening inside your body in these moments and show you three ways to get rid of the dreaded knot when it strikes.
Do your intestines genuinely move around when you’re nervous?
It’s probably a huge relief to hear that the answer is no, even though it certainly feels like it!
To understand stomach knots, it helps to know a little about your digestive systems, otherwise known as your gastrointestinal systems. This group of organs, which is responsible for metabolizing everything you eat and drink, has its own enteric (nervous) system. Your enteric nervous system can regulate digestion without conscious control.
But…what happens when you’re under stress?
When your brain detects a potential threat that it interprets as stressful, it releases fight-or-flight hormones that are picked up by the enteric nervous system. Essentially, your brain tells your body that there are more pressing issues to attend to than digestion and redirects your resources to other functions.
Instead of directing blood to your gut, your body starts to prepare itself for survival:
- Your heart rate will increase
- Your blood pressure rises
- Your breathing rate quickens.
So, when you’re rehearsing your lines before that public performance or adjusting your hair before an interview, your brain is essentially redirecting blood away from your stomach to help you focus.
That’s what you feel as “a knot.”
If you picked up this coaching card, you’re probably looking for a way to get rid of unpleasant knots and feel a little more “in control” before that big event.
I picked the following exercises to help you detangle your belly as soon as you feel “knotty,” and you may find them very helpful in the short term.
Note: It’s important to know that these can help you avoid becoming nervous in the moment. If you suffer from stomach knots frequently over time, they are not a substitute for identifying your long-term stressors and reducing or dealing with them directly. Rather, they are relaxation exercises that aim to counteract nerves and tension, and which will hopefully make you feel a little better.
1. Calmness Visualization
Mental imagery can be useful when trying to relax in a stressful situation. By visualizing yourself in a calm state, you can also create a mental picture to refer back to in all kinds of anxiety-inducing scenarios.
- Close your eyes
- Breathe in and out gently and deeply
- Imagine yourself calmly handling the situation that is making you nervous.
You might like to picture yourself relaxed and focused, even doing a wonderful job of what you set out to do—the more you practice, the better you will become at using visualization to unwind and manage your nervous belly.
2. Sit Up Straight
Do you ever hunch over when you feel a knot coming on? You are not alone!
We humans often react to stomach pains by making ourselves smaller, slouching forward, or rolling up into a fetal position—it’s instinctive.
One way to get rid of knots is by doing exactly the opposite: sitting upright and straightening your shoulders. Try the following steps:
- Sit up straight and close your eyes.
- Imagine you have a string attached to your head, and someone is pulling it upward.
- Push your chest out while you inhale through your nose, and your shoulders will naturally go backward and down.
- As you exhale through your mouth, it will feel like you’re blowing away all of your tension.
- Repeat these steps, lifting your shoulders as high as you can each time you breathe in (this will require you to tense your muscles). Each time you exhale, lower and relax your shoulders once more.
3. Have A Warm Bath
A little gentle heat is a great remedy for all kinds of stomach aches, whether it’s a hot water bottle or a relaxing soak in the bath.
If your stomach is cramped up from knots, take a warm shower or bath, and the heated water will relax your muscles, easing away the pain.