Stress is an inevitable part of life. It is usually triggered by various events and circumstances that may be out of your control.
Stress can lead to various consequences, which in turn can have numerous effects on the individual.
These effects might vary from minor and fleeting to more severe and long-lasting.
Stress can negatively affect your physical health in several ways and hurt your mental health and well-being.
One area that stress can have a significant impact on is your digestive system. Constipation is one such consequence that is caused by stress.
Although there are many people who experience constipation from time to time, it becomes more common under certain circumstances, for example, when stress levels are elevated for some reason or another.
Read on to learn more about how stress can lead to constipation and what you can do about it if you’re struggling with this problem.
What is Stress?
Stress is defined as any condition that causes physical or emotional discomfort.
It is often caused by external factors, such as environmental conditions, social situations, or even internal issues.
Stress can cause anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, and many other emotions, plus physical manifestations (somatic symptoms) as well.
When you experience these emotions, your body releases hormones called “stress hormones.”
These hormones help you deal with stressful situations, but if they remain high for long periods, they can lead to serious health problems.
Stress can have negative effects on your body and mind, causing headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, digestive disorders, and mood swings.
In addition, chronic stress can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels.
If left untreated, stress may lead to insomnia, weight gain, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The good news is that stress can be managed and controlled.
There are several ways to reduce stress, including meditation, yoga, exercise, and nutrition. Nutrition is especially helpful since it affects both the mind and body.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is when feces remain in the colon for longer than normal.
There are many causes of constipation, including diet, lifestyle, medications, stress, and disease.
The symptoms of constipation include hard stools, infrequent bowel movements, painful defecation, and straining while passing stool.
Constipation can be either mild or severe. Also, there are many natural and medical ways to treat constipation.
Types of Constipation
There are many different types of constipation, including:
- Functional constipation is caused by problems with the muscles of the colon and rectum
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- IBS is characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
slow transit constipation
- Slow transit constipation occurs due to poor dietary habits, lack of fiber, and insufficient fluid intake.
Opioid-induced constipation is caused by taking opioids long-term, especially morphine.
Constipation Due to Stress: Why It Happens
There are several reasons why people experience constipation when they are under stress.
For example, your bowels may become less active when you’re under too much pressure and unable to relax, let go, and properly get rid of your waste as often.
In this situation, you may experience stress-induced constipation, which can happen to anyone anytime.
And while stress is usually a temporary thing that doesn’t need to affect you, you can learn how to better manage it and avoid experiencing these problems in the future.
If you’re experiencing stress-induced constipation, you should know that you’re not alone.
This is one of the most common causes of constipation, especially among those who are under a lot of pressure at work or in other areas of their lives.
Further, when your body comes under a lot of psychological pressure, it releases adrenaline and cortisol hormones (released by the sympathetic nervous system). These hormones cause your digestive tract to slow down, making it harder to poop.
1) Constipation due to anxiety-induced stress
Constipation due to anxiety happens when you have a lot of worries going on in your mind. You may feel anxious about something at work, school, or home.
Anxiety causes your body to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones. Your body doesn’t know how to handle these hormones, so they make it hard to poop.
2) Constipation due to depression-induced stress
Stress-related constipation due to depression happens when you’re feeling sad or depressed. Depression makes it difficult for you to get motivated and move forward.
It also causes your body to release a hormone called serotonin.
Serotonin helps regulate mood and appetite. If you remain immobile for a prolonged period, this contributes to constipation, and so does an improper diet due to depression.
3) Gut-brain connection
The gut-brain axis is a complex communication system between your digestive tract and your central nervous system.
Your gastrointestinal tract consists of many different organs, including the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, appendix, and bile ducts.
These organs work together to break down food and absorb nutrients. When you eat, these organs release hormones and neurotransmitters into the bloodstream that travel throughout the body.
These chemicals communicate with your brain and influence mood, appetite, sleep, pain perception, memory, and more.
Communication through the gut-brain connection between your digestive tract and brain occurs in two ways.
These are via the vagus nerve (which runs from the esophagus to the brain) and via the bloodstream. In addition to sending messages to the brain, the gut sends signals to the body about what’s happening inside.
It is also essential to understand that neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry information from one neuron to another. Neurons are specialized cells that transmit electrical impulses to each other.
Each neuron has its unique shape and size and connects using synapses. Different types of neurons help regulate different parts of the body.
4) Physiological changes in your body
When you’re under a lot of psychological stress, your body might experience physiological changes that cause your digestive system to work less efficiently.
This can lead to your poop becoming less regular and more impacted due to the amount of waste it contains.
If you’re experiencing constipation due to stress, you may find that it helps to take a walk, get some fresh air, and relax a little more.
5) Dietary changes
Some people who are experiencing stress-induced constipation are also eating foods or taking supplements that irritate their digestive system.
This is especially common among people who suffer from anxiety. If you think this might be the case for you, try taking more fiber, drinking more water, and avoiding high-fiber foods until you feel better.
6) Lack of exercise
Physical exercise is excellent for relieving stress and lowering your levels of the hormones that can cause constipation. It also promotes bowel movements and regularity, which is why it should be done daily.
If you’re experiencing stress-induced constipation and not getting enough exercise, you may want to try doing some simple exercises that you can do at home.
7) Lack of sleep
When you lack sleep or have disturbed sleep, your body produces less serotonin, which causes you to feel stressed out. When you’re stressed, your body produces cortisol, which makes you crave food and drink. If you don’t eat enough, you’ll experience constipation.
8) Sugar cravings
For some people, stress causes sugar cravings, which can cause infrequent bowel movements, especially if you do not drink a lot of water or consume fiber-rich foods.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar daily.
That means if you’re eating a candy bar, you should limit yourself to about two pieces. If you’re drinking soda, try limiting yourself to 1-2 cans per week.
9) Other factors
Stress can also cause constipation if you’re a person who has a genetic tendency to this condition.
Similarly, if you’re pregnant or you’re taking medications that can interfere with your body’s normal function. Even slightly disturbed bowel functions can lead to mild or chronic constipation or other discomforts within your gastrointestinal tract.
Signs and Symptoms of Stress-related Constipation
The first sign of stress-related constipation is the inability to have a bowel movement.
If you haven’t had a bowel movement for several days, you should contact your doctor immediately. Other symptoms may include:
- Harder or lumpier stools
- Increase in frequency of flatulence
- Pain during bowel movement
- Feeling bloated or abdominal fullness
- Feeling down
- Change in bowel habits
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of appetite
Tips for Managing Stress
A lot of stress is never a good thing because of its propensity to cause other psychiatric disorders and physical illnesses. As such, you should do what you can to reduce your stress levels as much as possible.
Here are a few ways that you can reduce stress for a more rewarding life:
1) Talk to a friend or family member
Talking to a friend or loved one about your struggles can help you better understand what’s happening and why you’re experiencing them. It can also help you get more perspective on life, which can be valuable if you feel down or overwhelmed.
2) Try meditation
There are many different types of meditation you can try if you’re looking for something to help you relieve stress and relax.
Mindfulness meditation is most effective for this purpose, in which you learn to focus on the present moment and not think about the future or the past.
Meditation and other mindfulness activities like yoga involve focusing on the present moment without judgment. It helps you become aware of what is happening around you and how you feel.
You can practice mindfulness by breathing deeply, counting your breaths, or simply sitting quietly.
3) Take breaks throughout the day
Taking regular breaks helps relieve stress and keep your mind focused. Try taking a walk, listening to music, or doing something else that takes your mind off work.
Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment without judgment.
It helps you become aware of what is happening around you and how you feel. You can practice mindfulness by breathing deeply, counting your breaths, or simply sitting quietly.
4) Find a hobby
Hobbies give you something to look forward to and distract you from daily stresses. Hobbies can be anything from reading books to playing sports.
5) Learn relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques teach you to control your thoughts and focus on calming yourself down. Deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and meditation are just a few examples of relaxation techniques.
6) Create a positive mindset
Negative thinking creates stress, so try not to think about things that upset you. Instead, focus on things that bring you joy.
Tips for Managing Constipation
Along with reducing stress to manage stress-related constipation, one must also target constipation as well.
This will help to relieve constipation, stomach pain, and other associated symptoms.
Knowing that you have made progress with managing constipation can also help relieve some stress, which may come back around to relieving constipation even more.
1) Take a walk
Physical activity, like simply walking, relieves stress and lowers your cortisol levels; you may also notice that it helps you pass poo.
So, don’t be afraid to take it for a walk during your poo-passing.
Additionally, physical activity is a great way to relieve constipation.
Exercise helps to increase blood flow throughout the body, which increases the amount of oxygen and nutrients that reach the colon.
As a result, exercise stimulates peristalsis (the involuntary muscle contractions that move food along the digestive tract) and promotes bowel movements.
When you’re experiencing stress-induced constipation, relaxing is so important. Try to avoid worrying about things you can’t control and focus on the present instead.
3) Get enough sleep
If you’re experiencing stress-induced constipation, getting enough sleep can help to relieve it. Ensure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
4) Schedule a poo-passing
When you’re going to the bathroom, schedule it! This way, you’ll be more likely to get it done, and you can help relieve some of the stress that might be contributing to your constipation.
5) Eat more fiber
Fiber is excellent for relieving constipation and promoting regularity. Make sure you’re eating enough of it and that you’re taking your supplements as directed.
6) Limit caffeine
Caffeine is a diuretic and can cause you to become dehydrated. This can lead to harder and lumpier stools as well as stress-induced constipation.
7) Take supplements
Some supplements can help to relieve constipation and promote regularity. These include things like ginger, peppermint, and others.
8) Don’t skip the poo-passing
Skipping the poo-passing can cause your poop to become harder and lumpier. This can cause constipation and keep it from relieving itself properly.
9) Don’t hold it in
When you’re holding in your poo, it can become impacted and harder, which can cause constipation. This can also cause you to feel uncomfortable and stressed out.
10) Try natural remedies
Some natural remedies that help relieve constipation and promote regularity include dill seeds and fenugreek seeds.
11) Eat foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins
Eat foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins A, C, D, E, B-complex, and K. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are harmful compounds produced by the body.
Vitamins A, C, and E protect cells from damage, while vitamin B-complex helps produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Vitamin K promotes bone health and prevents osteoporosis.
Not only can this aid with gentle constipation relief, but it also helps with protecting intestinal permeability, reducing the gastrointestinal symptoms of other conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, and more.
Furthermore, because vitamin B helps with the production of serotonin, which is one of the stress hormones, its consumption can be vital to relieving stress-related constipation.
Of note, serotonin is primarily produced in the enteric nervous system. It is produced in abundance during periods of stress and, as such, causes increased gut constriction. Consequently, intestinal movement slows.
12) Drink Water
Drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Water flushes toxins out of the body and keeps the brain functioning properly.
13) Avoid alcohol
Avoid alcohol, as this substance stimulates the nervous system and increases adrenaline levels. Adrenaline is a hormone that increases blood pressure and heart rate, making it harder to relax.
Other Stress-induced Gastrointestinal Disorders
1) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition where the intestines become irritated and inflamed, and according to a scientific article published by the Gastroenterology Journal, there is significant evidence to support that IBS is a stress-sensitive disorder.
IBS symptoms may include diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, bloating, gas, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
IBS affects around 10% of people worldwide and is often triggered by stress.
2) Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease (CD) is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. It causes inflammation of the intestinal wall, leading to ulcers and scarring.
A multicenter cohort study in Germany published by the Frontiers in Pediatrics that looked at the stress triggers flare of inflammatory bowel disease in children and adults found that patients with CD were more likely to be affected by psychological disorders, and they also had poor stress coping skills.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, bloody diarrhea, and malnutrition. There is no cure for Crohn’s disease, but symptoms can be controlled with medication and surgery.
3) Ulcerative Colitis (UC)
This condition is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It occurs when the inner lining of the colon becomes inflamed and damaged.
In the same German-based study mentioned above, patients with UC also had a history of stress and poor stress coping skills.
Symptoms include cramping, bleeding, diarrhea, and rectal urgency. Treatment includes medications and/or surgery.
4) Celiac Disease
This is an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine.
People with celiac disease cannot properly digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats.
Medical experts believe that celiac disease can be triggered or worsened by stress.
Symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, and weight loss. People with celiac disease should avoid consuming these grains.
Diverticulosis is a condition where pouches develop in the digestive system.
These pouches are called diverticula.
Though there is some evidence and theories that stress can cause the release of inflammatory compounds that may lead to diverticulitis, their association is inconclusive.
As explained by Dr. Kenneth B. Klein in an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, there is no sufficient evidence that symptoms linked to any sort of diverticular disease are caused by stress.
Symptoms include severe lower back pain, constipation, and frequent urination. A person with diverticulosis may need surgery to remove the pouches.
7) Peptic Ulcer
Peptic ulcers are holes in the stomach or duodenum. They can cause severe pain, especially if they rupture.
When you are stressed, your stomach will produce excessive amounts of digestive acid. With such a high amount, it begins to break down the very walls of the stomach.
Symptoms include heartburn, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and blood in the stool. If left untreated, peptic ulcers can lead to complications, including perforation, hemorrhage, and death.
When you’re experiencing stress, it’s essential that you don’t be afraid to talk to a friend, family member, healthcare professional, or counselor about what you’re going through.
Doing so can help you to better understand what’s going on and help you to get some perspective on your life.
It can also help relieve some of the stress you’re feeling.
Stress can negatively affect your physical health in several ways, including causing constipation, as it causes increased intestinal permeability and other issues.
The best way to deal with stress-induced constipation is to take a walk and ensure that you’re eating a healthy diet high in fiber and getting enough exercise.
If you’re struggling with stress-induced constipation, try to relax more, schedule a poo-passing to relieve yourself properly, and speak to a healthcare professional.