Why anxiety is NOT all in your head

“It’s all in your head”, “Relax!”, “Stop worrying about nothing”, “When are you gonna stop worrying all the time?”

If, like me, you’ve heard those phrases a hundred times, you’re what is called an “anxious” person
Since I started coaching, it’s been the common denominator of all the wonderful people I’ve coached.

So I investigated. I listened to dozens of podcasts and read all the scientific articles I could find (thanks Google Scholar). 

I will do my best to explain things simply and synthetically in this article, so read all the way through ! You may well find answers for those who tell you that “it’s in your head”!

At the beginning of the intestine

In the womb… when there’s nothing you can do about it!

The microbiome is initially developed by vertical transmission through the placenta, amniotic fluid and meconium. Studies suggest that fetuses exposed to maternal stress develop an intestinal microbiota with fewer bacteria.

Natural birth or Caesarean section: ask your mom!

The mode of birth also affects the initial microbiome and intestinal microbiome. In one study, infants delivered vaginally had higher amounts of bacteria in their intestines than infants delivered by caesarean section.

The first week of life is crucial for your intestine

From the first week of life, gastric colonization is very dynamic. This critical period of birth and gastrointestinal development is essential for the health and immunity of the newborn. The underdevelopment of the microbiota during this period has been correlated with many states of stress.

Breastfeeding or no breastfeeding?

Studies have shown that breastfeeding is directly correlated to the levels of bacteria present in the intestine. Infants who are not breastfed by the mother show a decrease in the total number of bacterial species in the microbiota.

So you can see already that you may not be (largely) responsible for your chronic anxiety. Let’s see what is happening to our intestinal balance now that we are adults. 

The bowel in adulthood

As infants consume increasing amounts of solid foods, the nature of the bacteria in the microbiome changes. It is important to keep in mind that due to many factors such as diet, environment, season, health status, it is almost impossible to define a “normal” microbiome for the average human population. It cannot be repeated often enough, each individual is unique.

How anxiety sets in

Remember when you were a kid, were you anxious all the time? Did you wonder if you had enough time to play in the garden? What other people would think if you put on that little red dress you loved? Not so much.

So how does our chronic anxiety set in?

When the human microbiome is challenged by changes in diet, stress or antibiotics, the physiology of the normal microbiome changes. The intestine is then in a state that is called dysbiotic. Simply put, its natural balance is disturbed.
This dysbiotic state leads to an increase in intestinal permeability.

In itself, the permeability of the intestine is not a problem since one of the functions of the intestine is to allow water and nutrients to pass into the bloodstream. But since everything is a question of balance, too much permeability of the intestine is a problem. A BIG PROBLEM.

If your intestine is too permeable, then not only water and nutrients pass into the bloodstream, but also toxic substances, bacterial molecules and the bacteria themselves. This is the famous “leaky gut”. This is the stage of bowel disturbance that is not (yet) as severe as irritable bowel. syndrome, but already causes many problems. Anxiety is one of them.

What is the relationship between a leaky gut and anxiety?


If you know me, you know I’m passionate about anti-inflammatory foods. And not for nothing!

Let’s sum it up. Substances that shouldn’t get into the circulatory system get there because your gut is too permeable and let them through. The body is therefore alerted to these bacteria that should remain in the gut. And the body’s defensive response when the alert is triggered is inflammation.

The inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract stresses the microbiome and increases the permeability of the gut. The more permeable the gut is, the more inflammation increases, which in turn leads to inflammation in the brain, which in turn leads to… stress! The circle is endless and our inflammatory state becomes chronic, giving rise to all the problems you know: anxiety or even depression, skin problems, digestion problems,…

More to come in my next article on how to turn the vicious circle into a virtuous one and reverse anxiety! 







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