Stress and Anxiety: The Impact on Your Digestive System

September 13, 2021
Golf and GI


That’s Dr. Mario Ricci’s best advice if you get anxious when trying to make a specific shot. The more you practice the shot, the less stressful it becomes, he says.

Dr. Ricci is chief of Gastroenterology at Middlesex Health. He also loves to golf and is a member of the Connecticut State Golf Association. He understands that golfers can get nervous while playing. It’s happened to him.

He also knows that being nervous or stressed can impact your digestive system, which can result in the following gastrointestinal conditions:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (a disorder that affects the large intestine
  • Acid reflux

You may also lose your appetite, or become really hungry.

“It’s amazing how stress can affect the body,” Dr. Ricci says. “Sometimes, you can handle a myriad of stressors throughout your daily life, but that 3-foot putt…. It makes your heart race and your stomach churn.”

The science

When you are nervous, anxious or stressed, hormones and other chemicals are released and some of them may enter and impact your digestive tract (your gut). These hormones and chemicals can also decrease antibody production. The result: a chemical imbalance and those bothersome gastrointestinal conditions.

What can you do?

Whether it be diarrhea, nausea or cramps, dealing with a gastrointestinal condition is never fun, and once you deal with a gastrointestinal condition, you may actually start to stress over the condition itself. In addition to practicing your shot, Dr. Ricci recommends taking a deep breath before your shot to help calm your nerves.

If you find that stress is impacting your daily life and that you frequently experience gastrointestinal conditions, you should speak with your primary care provider. Ultimately, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist.

It may help reduce your stress if you are evaluated by a physician and can rule out more serious conditions, Dr. Ricci says, adding that medical providers may also have ideas on how to help minimize the stress that you experience and better manage any gastrointestinal conditions.

How Middlesex can help

Middlesex Health has a Center for Digestive Health, which helps patients diagnose, treat and manage many digestive conditions, including those that may be a result of stress or anxiety.

The center brings together physicians, nurses and supportive providers, including gastroenterologists, mental health professionals and integrative medicine practitioners. This coordinates care between all of your providers — even if they are not all in the same office! It improves both patient care and the overall patient experience, allowing for any problems to be addressed more efficiently and effectively.

Middlesex’s Center for Digestive Health treats the person, meaning that care is individualized to help you feel better — and get back on the golf course — faster. A nurse navigator is available to help you along the way, educating and guiding you through your care and any treatment.

For more information about the Center for Digestive Health, visit


Featured Provider

Mario Q. Ricci, MD

Mario Q. Ricci, MD


  • Middletown, CT
  • Marlborough, CT
  • Southington, CT

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