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Can Stress Cause Constipation? The Link Between Them 2023
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Constipation is an uncomfortable yet common occurrence for many adults. Around 16 adults in every 100 experience constipation — double that in those over 60 — yet the cause of constipation may vary among individuals.
But is it true that stress can cause constipation? In short: Yes. Stress and anxiety disorders can progress into physical symptoms like diarrhea or constipation. If you’ve faced any psychological stress or stressful life events, you may remember experiencing stomach spasms, abdominal pain, or stomach pain.
If you’re keen to discover why you’re experiencing anxiety constipation and want to learn how to reduce stress and stress-related constipation, read on.
Below, we will explore constipation causes, how stress can lead to constipation, the gut and mental health link, and how to relieve constipation symptoms.
Does Stress Cause Constipation?
Yes, stress can cause constipation, and constipation can worsen stress.
- 16 adults in every 100 experience constipation for various reasons, and this doubles after age 60.
- Studies show that stress can cause constipation, and constipation can worsen stress.
- Stress may change neurotransmitter activities in the bowel, leading to changes in overall bowel function.
- In some, changes to the gut-brain axis lead to diarrhea. While in others, it leads to anxiety and constipation.
- When stressed or anxious, bowel dysfunction may reduce the speed food moves through the system (intestinal movement slows down), which can cause constipation.
Stress And Constipation
Ask anyone, “Does stress make you constipated?” or “Does stress induce bowel dysfunction?” They’ll probably bristle with embarrassment and confirm that it does.
A simple change in your mood can lead to negative gastrointestinal symptoms. And much the same, an upset or imbalance in the digestive system can lead to a change in mood.
Any stressful encounter can result in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and constipation:
- Emotional or physical stress.
- Disbursed sleep.
- Mild to severe anxiety disorders.
Repeatedly, experimental and clinical evidence shows that IBS combines irritable bowel and irritable brain. But how?
Well, the digestive tract system is one of the body’s most complex systems. For the bowels to function correctly, nerves, bacteria, muscles, and a handful of other systems must work in synergy.
The glial cells are closely associated with neurons and modulate synapses among them, regulating nerve signaling and function.
Unfortunately, the ENS is highly sensitive to stress. When we’re highly stressed, we release the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which can alter ENS function, causing inflammation and changes in gut motility.
As a result, we may experience changes in bowel activity, resulting in diarrhea or constipation. If chronic stress happens, these may become.
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Can Stress Make Constipation Worse?
Does stress make you constipated? Well, it’s about more than just that. As it turns out, if you’re already constipated, experiencing stress can make constipation worse.
Research shows that occupational stress is one of the pathogenic factors in the pathogenesis of IBS, aggravating gastrointestinal symptoms. Furthermore, the strain and irritation we experience in the nerves and muscles due to constipation can cause our bodies to release neurotransmitters and chemical signals to our brains, causing more anxiety.
Therefore, there appears to be a vicious cycle between anxiety and the gut. As a result, people continue to experience disturbed bowel functions, including chronic constipation.
The Link Between Gut Health And Mental Health
If you’re experiencing gut health issues without any other obvious physical signs or reasons for the upset, experts may look at your mood, stress, and general mental health.
According to Harvard Medical School, “Psychology combines with physical factors to cause pain and other bowel symptoms…,” and “Psychosocial factors influence the actual physiology of the gut.”
It then stands to reason that gut health can affect mental health conditions, and mental health can affect gut health.
This evidence demonstrates that a bidirectional communication network links the central nervous system with the enteric nervous system, allowing the brain to influence intestinal activities and the gut to influence mental health, cognition, and mood.
Mood disorders like stress, depression, and anxiety have well-established links to disruptions in the gastrointestinal tract. At the same time, GI diseases like IBS or inflammatory bowel disease usually involve psychological comorbidities that interact with the gut microbiome.
While pinpointing the reason for constipation or difficulty passing stool may prove challenging, you first can consider improving mental health, reducing stress by learning coping mechanisms, and implementing lifestyle changes to improve your general physical health to create more synergy in the gut. This can relieve constipation and lead to better gut health. But more on that next.
How To Stop Anxiety Constipation?
Probably a more important question to answer than, “Can stress make you constipated?” is how to make it stop! We know that psychological stress leads to functional GI disorders, but how can you stop anxiety constipation?
Constipation is an uncomfortable experience, regardless of how long or short you must endure it. Findings show that psychological interventions like anxiety treatments or cognitive behavioral therapy have effectively reduced IBS symptoms like constipation and diarrhea.
Standard constipation treatments alone may not be enough, and interventions must include supporting gut health and implementing anxiety treatments to help reduce anxiety constipation and constipation anxiety. But how do you do that? Here’s a quick look:
Support Gut Health
Following a balanced diet is key to supporting gut health. Studies show that dietary habits strongly influence the composition of gut microbiota and normal healthy bacteria.
What you eat can also impact how you feel, thus affecting mental health, too. If you’ve been suffering from a gut imbalance, you can benefit from including a regular probiotic in your diet.
Try Anxiety Treatments
Research shows that psychological disorders and mechanisms contribute to gut-brain dysregulation. Working through mental health conditions is a good way to create a better balance in the gut-brain axis and improve symptoms.
Learning healthy stress and anxiety coping mechanisms, working through negative thought patterns, and talking to a mental health professional can make all the difference.
One good thing from the recent pandemic is how online telemedicine has been accepted as legitimate. Therapy sessions are now more accessible than ever and can be delivered through online avenues, video conferencing, and chat-based interventions.
Increasing evidence shows that online therapy avenues are as effective as face-to-face interventions for various issues like psychiatric, somatic, and anxiety symptoms. Therefore, you don’t even have to leave your home to get the support you need.
Tips To Reduce Stress
If you suspect that you’re suffering from constipation due to stress and anxiety, you can implement the following tips to reduce stress:
- Follow a healthy diet: Unhealthy eating patterns can result in increased stress levels. Evidence shows that a healthy eating plan can help you overcome stress and reduce the likelihood of stress-related issues like constipation, nutritional deficiency, and severe illness.
- Exercise: Exercise has been shown as a viable treatment option for constipation and stress in women, as it prevents stress while promoting physical health and decreasing the risk of other psychiatric disorders. For both men and women, the mind-body connection produces positive results when exercise and fitness evoke anti-inflammatory effects.
- Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep or inadequate and disbursed sleep can exacerbate stress. Aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to avoid being overwhelmed with stress hormones. Findings show that improving sleep quality promotes good mental health, reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol can disturb the balance in the gut-brain axis, negatively impacting feelings, thoughts, and actions. Alcohol has been reported as a frequent contributor to stress and can also cause an imbalance in the gut.
- Connect with others socially: Spending time with others can help you put things into perspective. Social relationships can diminish stress and give you a more positive outlook on life. Even simple physical contact can trigger the release of brain chemicals and hormones that make you feel great and provide biological benefits.
- Practice self-care: Self-care can take many forms, including going for a massage, reading a book, watching your favorite movies, going on a trip/adventure, or planning something to look forward to — the choice is yours. Even small acts of self-care can help manage stress, increase your energy levels, and lower the risks of illnesses.
The Bottom Line
Stress and anxiety can both cause constipation, and constipation can worsen stress and anxiety. The best way to thwart the negative GI effects is to focus on reducing stress and learning viable coping mechanisms through daily stress-relieving activities and following a healthy, balanced gut-friendly diet.
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