How Stress Affects Your Gut
When your body is under stress, it affects your digestion. Our bodies are very smart. And they know how to prioritize. But they cant distinguish between life-threatening stress and emotional stress .
When the alarm system and chemical reactions of the stress response are triggered, your body reacts the same way, regardless of the source of the stress. And one of those responses is to de-prioritize digestion.
If youre under stress , your body is concerned about survival. So its going to devote all available energy to that end. And digestion is not a priority at that moment.
So your digestion slows. And this can cause a whole mess of problems. Your body may slow or stop the release of digestive juices needed to properly break down your food. And if your food moves through your digestive system without being properly broken down it can cause problems ranging from constipation, to a disruption in your gut bacteria, to autoimmune disease.
Your body can deal with the problems produced from an occasional stress response. The real issue occurs when stress becomes constant or chronic. When you stay in fight or flight all the time, then the trouble starts.
If one meal isnt perfectly digested, your body can deal with it. But when meal after meal goes through your GI tract without being adequately broken down, you can develop ongoing issues like diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth , and irritable bowel syndrome .
Stress And Ibs Whats The Link
The gut and brain influence one another continually. In prehistoric times, this served us well: stressful situations would activate the âfight or flightâ system â blood flow to the stomach would reduce and the bowels empty or tense up. This would allow for more energy to flee or fight.
In todayâs world, life-threatening situations are rare but we are still wired the same way. Modern âpredatorsâ may come in the form of deadlines, and busy schedules and may cause ongoing stress. This chronic stress is what often leads to gastrointestinal issues such as IBS.
Is It Always About The Food When Healing The Gut
It absolutely is important to look at all the physical components, but to really get to the next level of physical health we need to make sure we are looking after our mental and emotional health too.
My friend Conni and I talked quite a bit about this in our recent podcast interview Healthy Gut, Healing IBS and Fasting with Kirsten Swales.
Shes inspired me a lot in how open she is with the struggles she faces. Shes all about the art of vulnerability. My About Me pageand sharing my story there that had been on my list for ages, her encouragement got it over the line.
Anyhoo, one of Connis struggles has been IBS. Another depression. You can read more about those and how she overcomes them on her site liveyourheartout.co
Weve been working together to heal up her digestion ).
I helped Conni a lot with the physical side of things, ie dietary adjustments, herbal medicine and nutritional supplements. She was a super star, nailed the SIBO protocol.
Conni helped herself a lot with working through emotions. Daily meditation being one of the ways. Amazing.
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Irritable Bowel Syndrome And Stress
Irritable bowel syndrome is an intestinal disorder with numerous uncomfortable and painful symptoms, including flatulence, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation. IBS is often hard to diagnose, and its causes are usually just as hard to grasp. The disease is not based on any recognizable organic triggers therefore the intestine does not show any pathological changes. It is also unclear why the intestines sometimes act up.
Doctors suspect that the cause may be disturbances in the intestinal flora or hypersensitivity of the intestinal mucosa. Psyche and digestion are also closely related: many sufferers report that stress aggravates their IBS symptoms. When its under pressure, the abdominal brain is inundated with signals and stressors that can cause extensive discomfort.
What Are The Causes Of Ibs
Researchers dont exactly know what causes IBS. They think a combination of factors can lead to IBS, including:
- Dysmotility: Problems with how your GI muscles contract and move food through the GI tract.
- Visceral hypersensitivity: Extra-sensitive nerves in the GI tract.
- Brain-gut dysfunction: Miscommunication between nerves in the brain and gut.
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Fighting Intestinal Issues With Yoga
In addition, yoga can also help to restore intestinal calm. Yoga combines meditative components with movement and breathing no other relaxation technique offers this combination. Conscious breathing has a calming effect on both the body and mind, and alternating between tension and relaxation has also been shown to help lower stress levels.
Many beginners might find this conscious winding down difficult. Instead, they would rather lace up their jogging shoes and start running after a busy day. While exercise reduces stress in the same way, only yoga also instills the ability to release. And that’s exactly what’s important for dealing with situations in which you can’t run away. In this way, yoga helps you to remain more relaxed in the face of pressure, which in turn benefits the sensitive intestines.
Not all types of yoga and yoga exercises are equally suitable for everyone and should be practiced in an adapted way depending on age and state of health. Beginners are recommended to attend a course. After that, they can continue to practice on their own – preferably on a daily basis.
How Are Ibs And Anxiety Related
Your brain and your gastrointestinal symptoms are linked, by a communication system in your body called the gut-brain axis. In other words, when your nervous system experiences stress, that reaction impacts your GI tractand vice versa.
When you feel anxious, the stress hormones making you feel that way could be transmitted to your guttriggering the physical symptoms people often call nervous stomach, those sudden bowel movements when youre upset. Or, when regular stomach cramps make you feel like you might need to rush to the bathroom at any time, your mood will likely be impacted. Simple things like a night out with friends or going on a long car drive can increase stress and social anxiety. Its difficult to know which comes firstthe anxiety, or IBS symptoms.
The cause and effect in medicine is really hard to establish, at most what we can establish is association, Dr. Farhadi says. Anxiety is highly associated with IBS, and IBS is highly associated with anxiety. Whether IBS is causing anxiety, or anxiety is causing IBS has yet to be proved. Its like the chicken and egg conundrum.
Anxiety and IBS can exacerbate each other, says Dr. Clarke. Studies show that depression and generalized anxiety disorder are more prevalent in patients with IBS, in comparison to the general population.
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What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome
According to the Office of Womens Health, irritable bowel syndrome is a combination of symptoms that last for at least three months. Common symptoms of IBS include:
- Stomachaches or cramping
Other conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it is important to have a medical evaluation to be sure none of these is present, says David D. Clarke, MD, professor of gastroenterology and president of the Psychophysiologic Disorders Association.
For example, your healthcare provider may want to rule out celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohns disease, lactose intolerance, or colon cancer. IBS is often a diagnosis by elimination, a process of making sure your symptoms arent caused by other look-alike diseases.
Anxiety And Stress Management
As stress and anxiety can trigger IBS flare-ups and cause the onset of unpleasant stomach cramps and bloating, its important to learn how to manage your stress levels. By easing your feelings of anxiety and managing your reaction to stress and coping with the situation, you can help your IBS symptoms. Despite being a common condition, it doesnt make it any less painful to have and it can have a big impact on your daily decisions. Its no fun having to be close to a toilet all day as youre experiencing severe symptoms.
To help manage your stress, look towards certain exercise and tools to help. Doing exercise of any kind is a great stress-reducing technique. Whether you love to run, walk, swim or battle it out at the gym. Exercise is a fantastic way to manage stress and anxiety. It also helps your bowel to contract normally instead of overreacting.
Relaxation may look different for everyone so focus on what relaxes only you. Try doing this activity twice a week to begin with and see how it makes you feel. Take time for yourself and manage your anxiety and stress effectively.
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Why Ibs Causes Emotional Stress And How To Manage It
Learn about the brain-gut connection, plus coping strategies including therapy, mindfulness and hypnosis from a Michigan Medicine psychologist.
Your brain and your gut constantly communicate with each other.
And sometimes they overshare, says Michigan Medicine clinical psychologist Megan Riehl, PsyD., M.A.
That oversharing irritates the brains of patients with functional bowel disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, where organs are free of structural abnormalities but problems such as cramping, diarrhea or constipation still occur.
Nerve endings along the pathway between the brain and the gut are extremely sensitive in these patients, Riehl says.
As a result, their brains have a difficult time regulating during stressful periods and also during the process of digestion, says Riehl, also an assistant professor at the University of Michigan specializing in gastrointestinal disorders.
What Causes Ibs And Who Is Likely To Have It
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but possible causes include over-sensitive nerves in the gut or immune system, food passing through the gut too quickly or too slowly, stress, or a family history of IBS, explains Dr Saloojee.
Post-infectious IBS is caused by a previous bacterial infection in the gut, which can then lead to the syndrome.
Youre more likely to have IBS if:
- Youre under 50 years of age
- Youre female
- You have a family history of IBS
- You have a history of anxiety, depression or other mental health problems
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Can Stress Cause Ibs Understanding The Connection
If IBS is famous for anything its famous for being caused by stress. Tell someone you have IBS and the first thing they will often say is, what you are stressed about?, even if youve had IBS for decades.
Primary care doctors will offer advice on stress reduction before they offer any medicines for your poorly stomach. Its only when you see a specialist gastro doctor that they start talking about IBS as something more than a stress problem.
So, can stress cause IBS? In reality, this is a very simplistic view of a complicated illness, but theres no doubt that stress can aggravate IBS. In some cases, a really stressful life event could even be part of the reason why one person develops IBS while another person stays healthy.
Where To Start Harnessing The Power Of Our Minds
Im going to finish off with some resources for you to explore:
Another goodie Conni has put me onto, Joe Dispenza. His meditations are epic!
Jon Gabriel, he does a lot with visualisations for weight loss with The Gabriel Method.
I have an amazing spiritual teacher I work with, Kirsty . Let me know if youd like her details.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. First book they gave us as assigned reading when I was studying to be a Naturopath. Also on the book list on my Yoga Teacher Training.
Another good book, The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton goes into the study of Epigenetics .
So yes, stress can cause IBS. But you absolutely have the power to reverse it.
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How Can I Tell If Stress Is Causing My Ibs
A good way to tell whether stress is triggering your IBS is to keep track of when you have symptoms. Keep a journal of times and dates you have IBS. This can help you learn whether IBS happens when you deal with stressful situations.
A busy, difficult day at work is an example of a stressful situation that may cause IBS symptoms. An argument with your spouse or partner could also cause IBS. The stress you experience in these situations is known as acute stress, which is stress that lasts for a short period.
On the other hand, chronic stress is stress that lasts a long time, such as several weeks or months. You may be suffering from chronic stress if your IBS symptoms occur all the time without any noticeable patterns or triggers.
Signs of chronic stress include:
- Low sexual libido
See your healthcare provider as soon as possible if the above symptoms sound familiar. Your doctors can talk to you in more detail to determine if these symptoms are being caused by stress.
What Are The Different Types Of Ibs
Researchers categorize IBS based on the type of bowel movement problems you have. The kind of IBS can affect your treatment. Certain medicines only work for certain types of IBS.
Often, people with IBS have normal bowel movements some days and abnormal ones on other days. The type of IBS you have depends on the abnormal bowel movements you experience:
- IBS with constipation : Most of your poop is hard and lumpy.
- IBS with diarrhea : Most of your poop is loose and watery.
- IBS with mixed bowel habits : You have both hard and lumpy bowel movements and loose and watery movements on the same day.
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How Can Employees Manage Ibs At Work
The IBS Network offers tips for people struggling to manage their IBS and ease their worries while working, such as:
- Keeping a supply of any IBS medication you use with you.
- Keeping other essentials, such as wipes and spare underwear, together in a bag in your car or in your drawer at work.
- Getting up early enough before work to allow plenty of time for breakfast and to go to the toilet.
- Taking a proper lunch break and avoiding eating meals on the run.
- Preparing your own food so you know what it contains and the portion sizes.
- Aiming to drink at least eight cups of fluid per day, especially water or other non-caffeinated drinks, to avoid dehydration and constipation.
Managing Stress And Ibs
Research around stress management strategies for IBS symptom relief shows promising results. Studies show psychological therapies may improve mental health, daily functioning, and physical symptoms of IBS sufferers.
Everyone feels the effects of stress differently, meaning there is no one-size-fits-all management strategy.
It is important for everyone to manage their stress levels, particularly if this contributes to your IBS symptoms. Some common strategies that may be effective in managing stress are:
- Physical activity â choose an exercise you enjoy
- Meditation, mindfulness and yoga
- Getting adequate sleep â aim for 7-9 hours per night. Optimise sleep hygiene by limiting caffeine to 10 hours before bed, avoiding all screens one hour before bed, and limiting alcohol before bed.
- Journaling â such as a gratitude journal or simply journaling how youâre feeling
- Remaining connected by socialising with loved ones
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Eating a well-balanced, nourishing diet
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Explaining How Anxiety Affects Ibs To Patients
One such factor is anxiety. Stress and nerves may exacerbate IBS symptoms, and that has been made clear over the past two years. The anxiety many have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic has made IBS symptom management difficult, and many patients have developed IBS during this time.² Your patients may be unaware of the way the brain and gut can interact with one another, and may have some questions about the link. How can you explain anxiety and the potential effects it can have on their IBS?
How Anxiety Affects IBS
Anxiety and IBS are often linked some studies have suggested that anxiety and depression are more prevalent in patients with IBS.³ The brain and gut interact with one another through the central nervous system, which is often divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These systems generally work together, but IBS can cause disturbances. These disturbances mean that stress, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system, can create overactive nerves in the gut. This results in common IBS symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea.
In some instances, the disturbances in the nervous system can cause underactivity in the gut, causing constipation instead.
Do Anxiety and Stress Trigger IBS?
Chronic stress and anxiety can potentially cause dysbiosis, a disorder of imbalanced intestinal bacteria. This can play a part in a patient developing IBS.
Drinking Lots Of Coffee
If you’re busy and tired and stressed, you may need a caffeine hit in order to get through the day. You should, however, think twice about having too much, if you’re someone who struggles with IBS.
“Caffeine can contribute to IBS in several different ways,” Cosman says. “Symptoms of IBS can be worsened by dehydration and excessive amounts of caffeine can contribute to this. Caffeine can also cause higher levels of stress and anxiety and can increase our blood pressure. This can hinder the immune system and increase symptoms of IBS.”
To avoid an onslaught of symptoms, you may want to avoid the likes of coffee, caffeinated teas and sodas, and even chocolate.
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How To Reduce The Effects Of Ibs
Irritable bowel syndrome can be an upsetting disorder. Regular trips to the bathroom may be embarrassing, and the physical effects of IBS – including abdominal pain and gas/bloating – can have an effect on anxiety as well, especially those with health anxiety/panic attacks.
Because IBS has no known cause, it also has no known cure, other than reducing your anxiety. In some people, IBS may simply disappear – especially after anxiety treatments. In others, it may be necessary to make lifestyle changes that help you manage your IBS so that the symptoms stop disrupting your life.
For those in a constant struggle with IBS, try the following strategies to reduce the way irritable bowel syndrome affects your life. These strategies may not cure IBS altogether, but they can make living with the condition far more bearable:
Finally, the most important thing you can do to decrease your IBS symptoms is to prevent your anxiety. You can’t expect to treat IBS if you still suffer from stress and anxiety on a regular basis.
IBS is a syndrome, not an illness. It’s caused by stress and anxiety and made worse by stress and anxiety. Only by curing your anxiety can you expect to manage it.
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