With the busy lives we lead, it's not surprising that many of us don't always make the best choices when it comes to food and diet.
Yet, a poor diet can affect the balance of the gut, and therefore physical and emotional health, very quickly.
"A short episode of stress is actually a very necessary physiological process designed to protect us and keep us safe. Consider the so-called 'Fight and Flight' response by our ancestors when faced with danger - the sudden release of stress hormones in response to danger triggering a chain of events putting the body on high alert - increased blood pressure and heart rate and more rapid, shallower breathing," explained nutritionist Lucy Williamson. "The problem arises when our body stays in this state, as is the case in our present world of information overload and busy lives. Carrying tension for too long means our stress hormone, cortisol, is having a constant impact, nowhere more so than in our gut. This is why managing stress is vital in nurturing our gut health but in addition, our gut-brain axis is also a vital pathway connecting our mood and emotions, with what's going on in our gut."
To mark Stress Awareness Month this April, Lucy has shared some top tips for improving gut health.
Get more rest
"Work on your sleep quality - our body heals as it sleeps, and our gut health also thrives when we're at rest," she advised.
"Aim to eat 30 different types of plants every week to nourish gut health and ensure a good intake of natural antioxidants - 'micronutrients' in plants nourish our gut bacteria and help with everyday natural detox too. This isn't as hard as it may sound; the '30 target' includes herbs and spices, as well as fruit and veg - and here's the good part, it even includes chocolate!" noted Lucy.
"Take time to enjoy food slowly and with good company. This gives our body time to digest properly. Even before we eat, our mouth is already starting to prepare our digestive system by producing saliva. A stressed gut is an unhappy gut," the expert emphasised.
Take a break
"Taking regular breaks to reduce tension is great - a short meditation or a box breathing exercise can be really helpful - breathing more slowly and deeply greatly helps to relieve stress," she said.
"Take regular exercise - just half an hour of brisk walking each day will help," Lucy added.