If you've ever noticed a sudden lack of appetite when co-workers were complaining or debating over lunch, then you've experienced the sympathetic nervous system—or fight or flight—kick into gear, which is a state of heightened mental exertion that demands inhibiting digestion in order to prioritize blood and energy flow to other parts of the body.
This reaction will move you away from a relaxed state of enjoying lunch to a revved-up state for either fleeing or joining the argument.
When we're on the go, multitasking, angry, or stressed, the sympathetic nervous system influences everything, increasing mental activity and heart rate to get things done while simultaneously reducing intestinal movement and digestive strength (because the mind is focused intently on something else, the body recognizes that it's not a good time to enjoy a meal).
Essentially, your body shuts down digestive power until the stressors are gone and the coast is clear.
If you're eating extremely healthy food but the meal environment is tense or nerve-racking (e.g., amid quarreling colleagues, agitating noise, or while trying to get intense work done), the digestive strength is dramatically reduced, and the result is often indigestion, gas and bloating, acid reflux, constipation, mental agitation, and a host of other discomforts.
You might spend precious time and money getting the best local, organic, seasonal, and well-prepared food in an effort to eat healthy during the workweek, but if you're eating it while stressed out, unfortunately, you just won't be able to digest it well.
The good news is that if we sit down in a relaxed manner to enjoy a meal, then the parasympathetic nervous system—or "rest and digest" mode—which is a relaxed mental and physical state that allows proper digestion and rest to occur will take over.
When we're in the rest-and-digest state, there is proper and timely flow of digestion, good assimilation of nutrients, and correct filtering out of waste. So, when eating in a peaceful setting, appreciating the company of cheery co-workers, or having a quiet meal alone, the positive atmosphere supports ease in the mind, which allows for a calm nervous system and thus supports optimal digestive strength.