If you have digestive symptoms that have been diagnosed as a functional GI problem like IBS, then you need to know about the brain in your gut. As a psychologist specializing in the treatment of IBS, it is my goal to help you heal and recover from IBS or whatever functional GI problem you have. Learning to “think” like the “second brain” in your gut is key to understanding how to begin your healing process.
IBS and the Enteric Nervous System
The technical name for the second brain in your gut is the Enteric Nervous System. It is often referred to as your body’s second brain because structurally the Enteric Nervous System looks just like your brain tissue. It also houses as many or more neurons than your spinal cord and contains all of the same neurotransmitters (chemicals that facilitate the transmission of neuronal messages) that are contained in your “first brain.” So for all intents and purposes, your gut really is wired as a second brain.
IBS and “Gut Feelings”
You’ve probably heard that old expression about a “gut feeling” — it refers to those times when our gut “tells” us something our thinking brain can’t. Well, this expression turns out to be true! The fact that you have a nervous system in your gut means that your gut is wired to feel and to sense. Though it can’t describe or explain what it’s feeling, your gut is nevertheless experiencing with great sensitivity and perceptivity.
In other words, your gut brain operates like a second right brain without a second left brain to go along with it. Your brain in your head has both a left and right brain, so when you’re feeling something, your left brain can identify what you’re feeling and think about why you’re feeling it. It can even put the feeling into words and talk to other people about it, thereby validating it for yourself (and it’s great to validate your own feelings!). However, your gut brain, lacking that left brain sensibility, can’t tell you what it’s experiencing or why. This is really frustrating when you’re having uncomfortable and seemingly inexplicable digestive symptoms. You know something’s not quite right with your gut, but you don’t have the information you need to figure out why your gut is doing what it’s doing. Therefore, you don’t know how to stop those symptoms from occurring. This is why living with a functional GI problem like IBS can feel so defeating.
Right-Brain Processing for IBS
Guess what? You don’t need to understand why your gut is experiencing what it is experiencing. All you need to do is experience it (and develop some skills to manage pain and discomfort effectively). But that becomes difficult if you haven’t really learned how to feel and sense using your right brain. That takes practice.
As I discuss in my previous blog, right-brain processing allows us to just be with our feelings and sensations, rather than inserting logic to try to do something about those feelings. The trouble is, some of us are just not used to feeling our emotions or noticing our sensations. When we do notice our sensations, all we notice are the unpleasant symptoms that are occurring. This is really common among people who have IBS — our right brains are turned down, and our left brains are turned way up. We’re trying to fix our bodies before we allow ourselves to experience our bodies just as they are.
But there is a way through this conundrum. By engaging in novel right-brain activities, and then using your brain’s capacity for left-brain processing to integrate these new right-brain experiences, you’ll be putting yourself on the path to healing. This might sound like gobbly-goop right now, but if you sign up to take my new webinar series, I promise it will make a whole lot more sense.
To learn more, visit the Don’t Hate Your Guts website where you can sign up to have weekly blog posts and the video of the week sent straight to your inbox. You’ll also receive updates about the exciting webinar series I’m about to launch.
Watch this week’s video just below.
Don’t hate your guts. Instead, discover how to heal your body.