How to take care of your gut in 2020 (and why it matters in your career)

Our digestive systems, much like our brains, are very ready for 2021.

2020 has wreaked havoc on our emotions, mental health, and sleep, but it’s also been a rough year for our guts. Many of us have experienced a wide variety of gut issues, including pain, constipation, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and any other not-so-fun manifestations of an unhappy gut.

This isn’t really any surprise, as it’s now a well-established fact that our mental state and our gut are closely linked. This relationship is ultimately a two-way street, with the state of our gut capable of having an impact on our mental health or emotions, and our mind capable of influencing the health of our gut. It is common to experience gut issues in response to stress, but it is also increasingly thought that dysfunction in the gut can contribute to conditions like depression and anxiety.

So, in short, gut issues are not just unpleasant; they can impact other aspects of our wellness and ability to function. And what most of us don’t consider is that these impacts can end up harming our careers.

Because of the link between our guts and our brains, poor gut health is a factor in decreased performance at work. Unhappy guts can easily lead to low energy levels, low mood, low productivity, and poor focus — all essential aspects of successful employees. Most of us only factor in things like caffeine, sleep, and exercise when figuring out how to make sure we sustain our energy levels. But the overlooked factor in this equation is undoubtedly the gut, and it would do us, our employers, and our careers great benefit to start paying more attention.

What you can do for your gut

The good news is that there are absolutely ways that we can improve our gut health, and, in turn, improve our work performance. Here are a few great methods.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live yeasts and bacteria that are good for your digestive system (and, sometimes, other parts of the body). While most of us think of bacteria as “bad,” there’s plenty of it inside of our bodies and on our skin. And a lot of it is “good” — which is where probiotics come in. They can aid healthy digestion and ease many of the gut problems we run into.

Many people take probiotics as supplements, but you can also try getting them through yogurt and other fermented foods.

Reduce stress

The gut and mental health can turn into a big ol’ cycle, with one negatively impacting the other, and then the same thing happening in reverse until they’re both just going downhill and causing damage to our daily lives.

If you’d like to get your gut health under control, find ways of relaxing, reducing stress, and easing any emotional struggles you may be going through. This will make your gut happier, which will in turn make your mental state and energy levels also improve. It’s a win-win-win.

Exercise

The beauty of exercise is that it can simultaneously improve our mental and gut health. While practically everyone knows by now that exercise is good for our mental health, we might not consider how helpful it can be for our digestion.

While strenuous exercise right after eating is typically bad for our digestion, exercise at other times can improve the overall health and functioning of the digestive system. For example, according to WebMD, exercise can be one of the best remedies for constipation, because it speeds up the digestive processes.

Sleep

Not enough sleep can directly impact our state of mind by reducing energy levels and decreasing mood, but it can also indirectly do so by impacting our gut. A recent study found that there’s an interrelationship between the gut microbiome and sleep. Apparently, poor sleep can negatively impact the gut microbiome — and the gut microbiome can also negatively or positively impact sleep, depending on the richness and diversity of the microbiome.

The takeaway

Many things have impacted our work lives in 2020. Between the stress of a pandemic, the transition for many into working from home, having kids at home, worrying about finances, or any one of the many effects of this year, it’s often been hard to be our best selves and our best employees.

We need all the help we can get when it comes to our work productivity and energy levels — which is why paying attention to our gut health is so important this year.

If you’re feeling out of sorts or like you’re not getting enough done, consider whether you’re taking good care of your digestive system. Try out some of the above strategies, and see what kind of difference they can make for your gut health and, as a result, your daily success and well-being.