Can Stress Cause Constipation? Understanding the Link



We’ve all felt it earlier than—feeling so confused that your abdomen does just a few turns, and even causes you to run to the lavatory. Typically, it could really feel prefer it stops you up altogether. However can stress truly trigger constipation?

It is not in your head: Stress is a well known reason behind constipation, which is outlined as having fewer than three bowel actions per week, based on the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It might additionally trigger onerous, dry, or painful stools that require straining whilst you “go,” or a sense that you have not handed all of the stool in your system.

Why does this occur, precisely? There are literally just a few causes. Be taught extra concerning the brain-gut connection right here, plus expert-backed tips to relieve constipation from stress.

How does stress trigger constipation?

“Stress can set off a fancy collection of physique responses,” says Deborah Gilman, PhD, licensed psychologist and proprietor of Fox Chapel Psychological Companies. This contains adjustments in your nervous system, a launch of sure hormones, and adjustments within the gut-brain axis.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system

The sympathetic nervous system is commonly known as the “fight or flight” response, per the Cleveland Clinic. “When the physique perceives stress, the sympathetic nervous system turns into dominant, resulting in adjustments in varied bodily features, together with digestion,” Gilman says.

Particularly, stress can inhibit the exercise of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is liable for relaxation and digestion. By slowing this method down, gastrointestinal motility (the motion of meals by the GI tract) additionally slows down, resulting in a decreased frequency of bowel actions, she provides.

Launch of stress hormones

When the physique is underneath stress, sure hormones are launched, Gilman says. Two of those hormones are cortisol and adrenaline1. Whereas these hormones could be useful when coping with perceived threats or hazard, they aren’t at all times useful in day-to-day life. The truth is, too much cortisol can have an effect on many alternative elements of your physique, together with your coronary heart, immunity, reproductive organs, and sure, your intestine, per the Cleveland Clinic.

That is very true in the event you’re chronically stressed, which may result in an imbalance of those hormones and trigger a dysregulated nervous system, she provides.

“Cortisol has been proven to change intestinal motility and sensitivity, contributing to constipation,” Gilman says.

Modifications within the gut-brain axis

Together with altering hormone ranges, stress impacts the communication between the intestine and the mind, Gilman says. The intestine is commonly known as the “second mind” as a result of it has an intensive community of neurons referred to as the enteric nervous system, based on a September 2023 overview within the Journal of Physiology.

“This intricate community of nerves communicates bidirectionally with the central nervous system, forming the gut-brain axis,” Gilman says. Research have proven that stress-induced adjustments within the gut-brain axis can have an effect on gastrointestinal transit time, leading to much less frequent or irregular bowel actions, she provides.

Modifications to consuming behaviors

Stress may result in adjustments in consuming habits and behaviors, says Sarah Robbins, MD, gastroenterologist and founding father of Well Sunday Health Corporation. This might embody decreased urge for food, adjustments in food plan, or irregular consuming patterns—all of which may contribute to constipation.

For instance, consuming much less fiber-rich foods or ingesting much less water throughout instances of stress can lead to more durable poop that’s tough to move, she provides.

Different causes of constipation

Apart from stress, there are different causes individuals get constipation. These most in danger embody the next, per the NIDDK:

  • Ladies, significantly whereas pregnant or after childbirth
  • Older adults
  • Individuals who don’t eat enough fiber
  • Individuals who don’t drink enough liquids
  • Folks taking sure drugs or dietary supplements, resembling antacids, seizure drugs, iron dietary supplements, or narcotic ache medicines
  • Folks with sure well being issues, resembling irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Individuals who incessantly ignore the urge to have a bowel movement

Can stress make different GI situations worse?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel illness (IBD) are two GI situations that may be worsened by stress, says Dr. Robbins.

Stress and IBS

“The connection between stress and IBS is well-documented,” says Dr. Robbins. IBS is a practical gastrointestinal dysfunction that features signs like belly ache, bloating, and altered bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or each), she explains. Stress and IBS could be linked within the following methods, based on Dr. Robbins.

  • Stress as a symptom set off: This could possibly be as a result of individuals with IBS have extra delicate guts that reply acutely to emphasize. Elevated intestine sensitivity to ache or discomfort is named visceral hypersensitivity, which might unlikely have an effect on an individual with out IBS, per the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Intestine-brain axis: Stress can have an effect on the communication between the central and enteric nervous techniques (i.e., the mind and intestine). This could result in adjustments in muscle contractions within the intestine and alter the gut microbiota—each of which may contribute to IBS signs, per the Journal of Physiology overview.
  • Hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis: The HPA axis helps regulate stress within the physique, per Michigan State University. The hypothalamus, pituitary glands, and adrenal glands are sometimes hyperactive in individuals with IBS, which may result in overproduction of stress hormones like cortisol. This could have an effect on intestine and immune perform, and make IBS worse.
  • Psychological co-morbidities: Folks with IBS-C (constipation) have the next prevalence of psychological problems like nervousness and despair, based on a January 2021 meta-analysis in BMC Gastroenterology.

Stress and IBD

The connection between stress and IBD is advanced. Whereas stress doesn’t trigger IBD, it could actually considerably have an effect on the course of the illness, says Dr. Robbins. Listed below are some ways in which stress influences IBD, per Dr. Robbins:

  • Exacerbation of signs: Stress is widely known to worsen IBD signs, with sufferers usually reporting that worrying life occasions precede flare-ups, per Penn Medicine.
  • Inflammatory responses: Stress can have an effect on your physique’s inflammatory responses, which may contribute to irritation within the intestine.
  • Intestine-brain axis: Stress can have an effect on your nervous system and communication between the intestine and the mind. This could have an effect on the immune response, which may affect IBD exercise.

Easy methods to deal with stress-induced constipation

Whereas stress-induced constipation is irritating, there are various totally different therapy methods you may strive at house.

Change up your food plan

Dr. Robbins recommends making slight adjustments to your food plan. This might imply incorporating foods to make you poop—like oats, entire grains, and fruits. Different adjustments you may make embody:

  • Upping your fiber consumption
  • Drinking plenty of water and fluids
  • Ingesting heat liquids within the morning to stimulate your digestive system
  • Consuming mindfully
  • Adding prunes or prune juice to your every day routine, that are pure laxatives

Get an belly therapeutic massage

“Gently massaging your stomach may help stimulate your intestines to maneuver stool alongside the GI tract,” says Dr. Robbins. This may be executed by frivolously urgent on the decrease proper facet of your stomach and dealing in upward, round motions till you have reached your proper ribs, throughout to your left ribs, and down into the left facet of your stomach. Repeat that clockwise movement for about 10 minutes, per Michigan Medicine.

Going to get an expert abdominal massage, or different types of therapeutic massage remedy, may assist relieve stress-induced constipation, provides Dr. Robbins.

Set up an everyday toilet schedule

Dr. Robbins recommends attempting to poop on the identical time every single day. This may help prepare your physique to have common bowel actions. Most individuals will discover it is best to poop within the morning, particularly after they’ve had a cup of espresso. Over time, your physique will adapt to a schedule.

One other tip? Making an attempt rocking back and forth to poop whereas on the bathroom. The movement will assist you “go” with ease.

Incorporate stress-management strategies

Utterly avoiding stress could really feel inconceivable, however there are methods to cut back its results in your mind and your bowels. Gilman recommends attempting issues like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation to cut back stress ranges and promote leisure all through your total physique, together with your GI tract.

“Mindfulness meditation, particularly, may help individuals domesticate present-moment consciousness,” Gilman provides. “This allows them to create non-judgmental attitudes towards on a regular basis stressors, which can relieve pressure and promote bowel regularity.”

An alternative choice? Cognitive behavioral remedy (CBT), Gilman notes. This particular sort of remedy helps you problem unfavorable thought patterns, and it is truly been proven to assist enhance signs of IBS, based on a July 2017 overview in Psychology Research and Behavior Management.

Preserve a journal to trace signs

If you happen to really feel like your constipation is attributable to particular stressors or emotional triggers, keeping a journal is usually a useful option to monitor patterns and establish conditions that exacerbate your signs, Gilman says.

From there, you may be taught coping methods like boundary setting, problem-solving abilities, and leisure strategies to assist scale back stress and bowel points, she provides.

“When you acknowledge constipation is a standard physiological response to emphasize, you could be extra light with your self.”—Deborah Gilman, PhD, psychologist

Follow self-compassion

One other coping technique is self-compassion. It is true: Treating your self with kindness and style throughout worrying instances may help scale back GI flare-ups, Gilman says.

“When you acknowledge that constipation is a standard physiological response to emphasize, you could be extra light with your self as you navigate the expertise,” she provides.

Incorporate different wholesome way of life adjustments

Based on Gilman, there are a number of behavioral methods you need to use to handle stress, together with:

  • Getting sufficient train: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the typical grownup will get no less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity train per week. This equals about half-hour per day, which you’ll break up into a number of smaller chunks if that higher fits your schedule.
  • Getting sufficient sleep: The CDC recommends adults get anyplace from seven to 9 hours of sleep per evening.
  • Setting real looking objectives: As a substitute of specializing in large objectives, break duties into manageable steps and set realistic goals to cut back emotions of overwhelm. Have a good time small victories and progress towards your objectives.
  • In search of social assist: Discovering IBS or nervousness assist teams on-line or in-person may help you’re feeling much less alone in your expertise and assist empower you to deal with your self.

Attempt over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and dietary supplements

If the above adjustments aren’t working for you, Dr. Robbins suggests utilizing OTC remedies like fiber supplements, stool softeners, or delicate laxatives. This could embody merchandise like Metamucil, Benefiber, Miralax, or Dulcolax.

Simply take into account that laxatives must be thought-about a short-term resolution. In case your constipation lasts longer than just a few days, it is best to see your physician to ensure you can preserve utilizing them long run.

Stopping stress-induced constipation

As soon as you understand your bowels nicely sufficient (and understand how they reply to stress), you may anticipate constipation flares forward of time and assist mitigate them, says Dr. Robbins.

Begin by maintaining a journal (as talked about above) to assist monitor any patterns or every day habits. “When you acknowledge the indicators of stress affecting your bowel actions, you may work to stop flares earlier than they begin,” she provides. You may implement the identical therapy methods listed above for prevention.

When to see a health care provider

Whereas constipation could be annoying and even uncomfortable at instances, stress-induced constipation is often innocent and can start to dissipate as soon as stress is relieved.

That stated, in the event you develop any of the next signs alongside constipation, attain out to your physician as quickly as attainable, per Dr. Robbins:

  • Constipation that lasts for a number of weeks regardless of house therapy and way of life adjustments
  • Blood in your stool
  • Extreme ache or discomfort that’s not relieved by having a bowel motion
  • Unexplained weight reduction
  • Sudden adjustments in bowel habits
  • Problem passing stool
  • Bloating and belly distention that doesn’t enhance
  • Counting on laxatives to have a bowel motion
  • Signs of anemia, resembling fatigue, shortness or breath, or paleness
  • Household historical past of colon situations like colorectal most cancers or IBD

Your physician may help rule out or deal with any severe underlying situations that come up.


How can I make my bowels transfer quicker?

An important natural remedy for constipation that strikes your bowels quicker is prunes (or ingesting prune juice), per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Each have sorbitol—a sugar alcohol that does not break down throughout digestion—which may help you poop quicker, per the National Library of Medicine.

Taking a delicate OTC laxative may assist stimulate your bowels to maneuver quicker. Simply verify together with your physician earlier than taking them to ensure they’re best for you.

How lengthy does stress constipation final?

Stress-constipation will final a distinct period of time for every particular person. Components just like the depth or length of your stress, your coping abilities, and underlying well being situations will play a task, Gilman says.

“For some individuals, constipation could resolve as soon as the stressor is alleviated or managed, however for others, it could persist longer,” she provides. Because of this it is necessary to maintain monitor of your signs and notice any patterns/habits that could possibly be prolonging your constipation.

Can despair and stress trigger constipation?

There is no denying that your psychological well being and intestine well being can play off of one another. This implies it is fairly attainable to have intestine signs like constipation or diarrhea whereas depressed or anxious. Whereas there is no scientific proof that despair straight causes constipation, there may be some anecdotal proof of individuals with despair present process adjustments of their bowel habits, per Dr. Robbins.

In case you are coping with depressive signs, attain out to your physician or a therapist for assist. They’ll recommend therapy choices that might assist relieve bowel points, too.

Effectively+Good articles reference scientific, dependable, current, sturdy research to again up the data we share. You may belief us alongside your wellness journey.

  1. Leigh SJ, Uhlig F, Wilmes L, Sanchez-Diaz P, Gheorghe CE, Goodson MS, Kelley-Loughnane N, Hyland NP, Cryan JF, Clarke G. The influence of acute and persistent stress on gastrointestinal physiology and performance: a microbiota-gut-brain axis perspective. J Physiol. 2023 Oct;601(20):4491-4538. doi: 10.1113/JP281951. Epub 2023 Sep 27. PMID: 37756251.

  2. Hu, Zhichao et al. “The extent and prevalence of despair and nervousness amongst sufferers with totally different subtypes of irritable bowel syndrome: a community meta-analysis.” BMC gastroenterology vol. 21,1 23. 7 Jan. 2021, doi:10.1186/s12876-020-01593-5

  3. Kinsinger, Sarah W. “Cognitive-behavioral remedy for sufferers with irritable bowel syndrome: present insights.” Psychology analysis and habits administration vol. 10 231-237. 19 Jul. 2017, doi:10.2147/PRBM.S120817


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