Our digestive system and bowels might be affected by stressed-out thoughts and emotions. Similarly, the situation can be reversed. Digestive issues and constipation might result in stress or long-term anxiety.
Stress can impact almost every aspect of life. It can affect our ability to think, feel, and be physically healthy. Stress frequently results in various health issues and constipation can be caused by stress.
1. What Are the Links Between Stress and Constipation?
We all have sometimes experienced nervous butterflies in our stomach or gut-twisting anxiety which indicates that our brain and the stomach have connectivity.
This link is important for the body’s physical functioning such as digestion. However, this might also occasionally result in creating unpleasant symptoms like stomach pain or constipation.
According to research, emotions might cause bowel problems. And, similarly, issues in bowel movement might cause changes in emotions. This is known as the “gut-brain axis”.
So, it’s clear that stressful situations can cause constipation. The stress can be physical as well as mental. Physical stress like lack of sleep or anxiety can lead to constipation.
Constipation means difficulties in passing tools or frequent bowel movements. The symptoms of constipation differ from person to person such as:
less than three bowel motions in a week,
painful or difficulty in bowel movement or passing,
dry or hard or lumpy stools,
Inability to control the bowel movement,
Abdominal pain or bloating
The cause of constipation can be lack of physical exercise, consuming large amounts of milk products, dehydration, or poor diet such as not consuming enough fiber foods.
Stress can also be one of the causes of constipation. Constipation can result from the effects of stress hormones present in the body. Furthermore, when a person is stressed they are likely to eat more unhealthy foods, don’t drink enough water, or don’t get proper sleep or exercise.
2. How Can Stress Cause Constipation?
The automated nervous system regulates the majority of our body’s functions. It is a network of nervous systems that connects the brain with most of the body’s organs.
The sympathetic nervous system, a part of the automated nervous system prepares the body for fight-flight situations.
The parasympathetic nervous system helps the body to relax after a fight or flight situation and is also a part of the automatic nervous system. This nervous system also prepares the body for digestion as it is connected with the enteric nervous system in the gastrointestinal tract.
The digestive system is the body’s most complex process as proper bowel motion requires the muscles, nerves, bacteria, and other cells to operate together effectively.
2.1 Enteric Nervous System
The central nervous system and sympathetic nervous system, which regulate the digestive system are linked to the enteric nervous system. It is packed with neurons and is sometimes also known as the second brain.
This system connects with the brain and the rest of the nervous system through hormonal and chemical neurotransmitters.
It also helps in producing the serotonin hormone which influences memory, learning, sleep and sexual behavior, hunger, and others.
Serotonin helps in digestion by narrowing the smooth muscles which helps in the flow of food through the intestine.
When we get stressed or anxious, the brain releases various hormones like serotonin, cortisol, and adrenaline. This increases the serotonin hormone in the guts which results in stomachaches.
If you get this muscle contraction throughout your large intestine then you might get diarrhea. However, if these contractions of muscle get limited to one part of the intestines then the digestion might slow down further resulting in constipation.
2.2 Stress Factor
The intestines contract and begin to digest as soon as you eat. This entire process is controlled by the neurons lining the digestive system.
When you get stressed, the digestive process might slow down to a snail’s pace.
If the stress is severe and long term then you might experience symptoms like stomach ache or chronic constipation.
Additionally, the stress can lead to gastrointestinal tract inflammation which worsens the pre-existing inflammation conditions and worsens constipation.
3. How Can You Tell Whether Stress Is Causing Your Constipation?
There is no particular stress that can determine whether stress is causing constipation. However, stress can have an impact on your health other than just the bowel motions.
So, if you are experiencing the symptoms of stress and constipation at the same time, then you can suspect that the stress is causing your constipation. Following are some of the common stress symptoms you might experience:
- Low sexual desire,
- Fatigue and Insomnia
- High heart rate
- Concertation issues
- Change in appetite
- Feeling of Nervousness
4. Can Stress Make Other Conditions Worse?
Functional gastrointestinal conditions impact 35% to 70% of people at some point in time with women being more frequently affected than the male. This condition can be caused because of physiological, biological, and social factors.
Various researchers have found that stress can be an important factor in digestive issues. It is environmental or psychological stress that can worsen stomach pain and further result in constipation.
Stress can worsen multiple health conditions that lead to stress-induced bowel dysfunction. These consist of:
4.1 Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD
Inflammatory bowel disease is a set of disorders characterized by chronic inflammation in the intestines. Crohn’s disease, microscopic colitis, and ulcerative colitis are examples of IBD. Both of these types have an impact on the digestive system.
According to 2005 scientific studies have shown that stress is related to flare-up of these types of inflammatory bowel disease. Chronic stress and anxiety seem to exacerbate inflammation, which may trigger IBD flares.
Stress is thought to be the cause of inflammatory bowel disease however it is still not confirmed yet.
Proper treatment and medication can help to cure this chronic disease.
4.2 Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS
The physiological factors might be one of the reasons for IBS. IBS mainly influences the intestine and stomach and is also known as the gastrointestinal tract. You might experience stomachache, diarrhea, bloating, gas, and constipation.
A 2014 research data explained that stress may influence the beginning and severity of the IBS symptoms by altering the autonomic nervous system functions.
Additionally, stress can also disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and this condition is called dysbiosis. This may lead to irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.
It takes a long time to cure as it is a chronic condition. Only a few percent of patients experience severe symptoms. By properly managing your diet, lifestyle, and stress, you can control the IBS symptoms.
If your situation is worse, then you need to get proper medications and counseling.
- Subtypes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS is classified based on bowel movement. So, the following are the subtypes of IBS:
Irritable Bowel Treatment with Diarrhea(IBT-D)
Irritable Bowel Treatment with constipation(IBT-C)
Irritable Bowel Treatment mixed (IBS-M)
5. Can IBD and IBS Increase Your Stress?
Yes, IBD and IBS can trigger your stress and anxiety. Research has found that 44% of IBS patients suffer from anxiety and stress. According to healthcare professionals, people with IBS condition face bowel motions that respond severely to stress causing muscle contraction, gas, abdominal pain, and constipation.
The beginning of the IBS can be because of certain factors such as depression or stress, trauma caused by the death of a loved one, and others.
IBS can lead to depression and stress as the neuron line is connected to the intestines. People with IBD and IBS may also experience more severe discomfort than others without these conditions.
This is due to their brains being more sensitive to pain signals from the gastrointestinal tract.
Your intestine spasms when you are stressed, anxious, or nervous. These muscle spasms can cause stomach cramping and discomfort, which can worsen your IBS symptoms.
6. Can Poor Diet Choices Contribute?
If you don’t eat enough fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, then you may experience constipation. Constipation can be caused because of consuming a lot of high-fat meats, sweets, processed foods, eggs, and milk products. You may experience this condition if your diet does not include enough fluids.
When we get stressed we all tend to consume sweet foods rather than a healthy salad. Sometimes, stress and poor diet choices are related to each other.
If you are experiencing stress-related constipation then this might affect your entire health condition. Always try to avoid those foods that result in bloating, gas, and constipation. Keeping a food journal can effectively help you determine the foods that are affecting your digestive system the most.
The types of food that commonly lead to digestion issues are:
Greasy or fatty foods
Very Spicy foods
High-fat contain foods
Eating high-fiber foods can help to prevent constipation issues. For Example:
vegetables, including carrots, peas, kale, broccoli, okra,
Whole grains, including whole oats, millet, buckwheat,
Fruits including avocado, apple, oranges, grapefruits, pears,
Brown bread. Pasta and rice.
However, fiber-rich food items might be a healthy choice but it may worsen the constipation situation in others. As they are more difficult to digest. Try different health food items to understand which one is best for you.
People with IBS must not consume alcohol, caffeine, or carbonated sodas.
7. How Can You Treat Stress-Related Constipation?
The best possible ways to treat stress-related constipation can be managed through a proper diet, consuming lots of fiber, and drinking enough water. Following are some of the strategies that you can follow to erase stress-related constipation:
Doing exercise regularly can be beneficial as it improves intestinal movement which relieves constipation. These lifestyle changes may help improve mental health and lower stress levels regularly.
Try to avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and foods that contain excess sugar and fat as these can lead to risk factors like constipation and stress. Limiting and avoiding certain items can help to alleviate the symptoms of both of these conditions.
Constipation caused by stress can be cured through traditional treatments such as laxatives, stool softeners, or prescription medicines. However, the root cause of constipation could not be solved with these medication treatments. If you consume these medicines for a longer period then your body can lose the capacity to get rid of stools from your body naturally.
People with IBS can take low-dose antidepressants to feel less anxious since these drugs impact the neurotransmitters in both the gut and brain. These drugs include tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Sometimes professional counseling can help people identify sources of stress that may result in constipation. People who have experienced a history of trauma or suffering from certain mental health issues like anxiety or depression may find this therapy to be very beneficial.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug lubiprostone to treat IBS-related constipation as well as other types of chronic constipation. This drug doesn’t contain laxatives. It benefits stool passing by increasing the fluid quantity in the bowels.
Doing daily stress-relieving activities can also be beneficial. These include yoga, journaling, reading, meditation, and listening to relaxing music.
Change your lifestyle to a healthier one by making dietary improvements and getting enough sleep.
Furthermore, you should not try to rush or force yourself to use the restroom.
The Bottom Line
Constipation is a common medical condition that can be caused by stress. Most of the stress-related constipation can be erased by simple treatments.
Stress hormones can directly affect bowel movements by influencing body functions. Furthermore, people are more likely to eat poorly, drink too little water, and exercise less when they are anxious or stressed and all of these can lead to constipation.
However, constipation can be caused by something more serious. So, it’s better not to ignore it.
You should get medical help as soon as possible if your constipation situation gets worse. Your doctor can help you to find out the reason for your constipation and the best treatment options for you.
Stress can impact your health in a variety of ways, read this post to find out if stress is the actual cause of your nausea.