Stress and anxiety are directly linked to stomach pain, research shows. Yakobchuk OlenaGetty Images
It’s a well-known saying among young women on TikTok that hot girls have stomach problems. Turns out Drake did too.
The Grammy-winning rapper shared a Friday episode of his radio show Table for one that he is taking a break from music for perhaps a year or so to focus on his health and dealing with his chronic stomach issues. The ad drew online comparisons to the phrase TikTok. But as absurd as the saying may seem, it does have some backing: the stress and anxiety that women and Gen Z experience with greater prevalence than men and other generations, respectively, are directly linked to stomach pain.
Women have a markedly higher prevalence of anxiety disorders than men, according to a 2017 study from the National Institutes of Health. Take panic disorder, for example, which is characterized by frequent and unexpected panic attacks with symptoms such as elevated heart rate, chest pain, and nausea. The disorder is twice as common among women as among men.
Also most frequently experienced by women are generalized anxiety disorder (characterized by constant, uncontrollable worries), social anxiety disorder (characterized by fear of social or performative situations) and specific phobias, the study said.
There are several reasons why this is the case. One is that women more often attribute positive associations to worry, said another study from the National Institutes of Health. For example, worry can be helpful when it increases security. Differences in biology and socialization between the two sexes may also have a role to play.
Why does this matter? Stress and anxiety are common causes of stomach pain and other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, according to a UChicago Medicine article. Research reveals a strong connection between the brain and the intestine, as they are linked through a branch of the central nervous system. This means that stress and anxiety-inducing situations affect not only the way the intestines and stomach move waste through the body, but also the delicate balance of gut bacteria levels, which can cause discomfort if they’re out of whack.
Take note of the fact that Gen Z, ages 11 to 26, has the worst reported mental health of any generation. Having lived through a global pandemic and issues like gun violence, sexual assault and climate change dominating the news, less than half of young people (45%) report having excellent or very good mental health, according to a 2018 report from American Psychological Association. In comparison, 56% of millennials, 51% of Gen Xers and 70% of baby boomers responded the same.
The not-so-unexpected result of all this is a legion of girls in their teens and 20s documenting their pain on social media.
Over the past two years, a TikTok trend has emerged in which women share what it’s like to live with chronic stomach issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that affects the stomach and intestines and can cause cramps, abdominal pain, abdominal distension, diarrhea. and constipation.
Nadya Okamoto, an influencer and startup founder whose company wants to destigmatize menstrual cycles, posted a TikTok calling herself a constipation queen. In the video, she is dressed in an outfit similar to what Rihanna wore to show off her belly, but with the text, I haven’t pooped in over a week, but my swollen, poop-filled belly is coming in handy tonight! The TikTok has over 300,000 likes and 3.8 million views since it was posted in April 2021.
These women are raising awareness with the #HotGirlsWithIBS tag having over 112 million views on TikTok while normalizing the health issue. Even men got in on the joke, like one TikTok saying: She’s 10 but has stomach problems so she’s 11.
But others say this trend may be inadvertently creating harmful rhetoric by linking health problems to attractiveness.
Natasha Boyd, a Los Angeles-based writer, addressed the topic in a June 2022 article titled Sick to Stomach: Why Does Everyone Have IBS? in To driftan online diary.
The cultural rise of IBS also makes sense in the context of wellness and body positivity. It’s no longer correct to insist that nothing tastes as good as being thin, Boyd wrote. Women should love themselves so much for this. Instead, they need to declare that they shit their pants if they eat gluten or dairy, so that abstaining from these foods is seen as an act of self-care and not an eating disorder. Rather than choosing not to eat, people with IBS I just can’t.
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