Burning Up: How Stress Impacts Heartburn and How to Manage it

Burning Up: How Stress Impacts Heartburn and How to Manage it

Did you know?

Despite the name, heartburn actually has nothing to do with the heart. But some of the symptoms are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease. If you have ever experienced a burning, uncomfortable sensation in your chest or throat that has nothing to do with your heart, you have experienced how very unpleasant and disruptive heartburn can be. Heartburn is a natural response to stomach acids, and is largely caused by eating the wrong types of foods, but can also be aggravated by other factors such as stress.

Causes and Symptoms of Heartburn:

Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus -- the tube that connects your throat and stomach. It's caused by stomach acid. This leads to a burning discomfort in your upper belly or below your breastbone.

Typical heartburn symptoms include:

A burning sensation in your chest, behind your breastbone

Burning pain that rises up toward your throat

Having a bitter or sour taste in your mouth

Find it hard to swallow

Acid reflux and heartburn are sometimes caused by an underlying medical condition, or even a medication you're taking in some cases. But, more often than not, they're triggered by things like your diet and lifestyle choices — making the occasional bout of heartburn fairly common.

Common triggers of heartburn include:

Overeating or eating too quickly

Lying down too soon after eating

Consuming certain foods, including caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, peppermint, citrus, tomato-based products, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods

Being overweight


Stress and anxiety

Stress and Anxiety:  How Are They Connected to Heartburn?

Research is beginning to reveal what many people have been experiencing in their daily lives: increased stress is connected to heartburn.

A 2004 study looked at 60 participants who dealt with heartburn over the course of 10 months. Researchers found that “severe, sustained life stress” could “significantly” predict increased heartburn symptoms. There was also a connection to heartburn symptoms and exhaustion.

Researchers were careful to say that they weren’t looking at minor mood changes or small stressors — the connection was between major stressful life events and increased probability of heartburn symptoms.

Many of the symptoms of anxiety cause further anxiety. The cyclical nature of anxiety is one of the reasons that this disorder can be hard to treat without some type of outside intervention. You experience anxiety, then you experience very frightening symptoms, and then you experience more anxiety over those symptoms.

This is the case with anxiety and heartburn. Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, can cause numerous symptoms that may lead to significant anxiety, especially if you are prone to health anxiety or panic attacks. 

How Stress Affects Heartburn

While more research needs to be done before researchers can clearly define the mechanism behind the relationship between stress and heartburn on a more psychological or physical level, it does seem safe to assume that if you deal with heartburn on occasion, you may find it triggered by stressful situations.

Here are some of the reasons researchers have found that stress-related heartburn occurs:

The link between the brain and the digestive system can cause changes in either direction. Stress can cause digestive changes, and digestive changes can cause stress reactions in the brain and body.

Stress slows down digestion. Ever notice that you may lose your appetite when stressed out? That’s your body slowing down the digestion process, keeping food in your stomach longer—and giving stomach acids more time to cause stress-related heartburn.

Stress amplifies pain by making you more sensitive to it. Your heartburn may not be stronger during stress, just more noticeable.

What to do if stress is making your heartburn worse and impacting your health:

Exercise - Exercise helps loosen up tight muscles, gets you away from the office, and releases natural, feel-good hormones. Exercise can also help you lose weight, which can help reduce the pressure on your abdomen.

Avoid trigger foods - This is particularly important if you’re under stress, as you’re likely to be more sensitive to heartburn-triggering foods like chocolate, caffeine, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, spicy foods, and fatty foods.

Get enough sleep - Stress and sleep form a cycle. Sleep is a natural stress reducer and less stress can lead to better sleep. To help avoid heartburn symptoms while you snooze, keep your head elevated.

Practice relaxation techniques - Try out guided meditation, yoga, regular stretching, or relaxing music.

Learn to say no - Prioritize people and activities that are most important to you and block the rest. It’s OK to turn down the things that don’t rate high on your priority list.

Laugh - Watch a funny movie, read a funny book, or get together with friends. Laughter is one of the best natural stress relievers.

Spend time with your pet - If you don’t have a pet, consider getting one. Pets can help calm and rejuvenate you.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.