There is an intimate connection between the gut and the brain. It is thus not surprising to wonder can stress cause diarrhea?
·September 2nd, 2021
Stress affects us all and impacts our stomachs. Here, we answer the question of can stress cause diarrhea.
Our brain and gut are intimately connected and our gut is often called our “second brain”.
When we’re under stress, our stress hormones increase and our gut is sensitive to those hormonal changes.
Different forms of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), help millions of people cope with stress every year.
Complementary healthcare providers, such as acupuncturists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners or naturopaths may be able to address your holistic lifestyle and provide solutions that help you manage the stress or reduce your symptoms.
None of us are immune to stress
And we are likely even less willing to admit the effects that stress can have on our body—and our stomachs. We’re explore the impacts of stress and the question of can stress cause diarrhea?
For more than 50 years, scientists have investigated the impact that stress can have on the body. Research shows that chronic stress can be a contributing factor for many diseases, including depression and cardiovascular disease. But stress can also have a big impact on gut function and digestive symptoms.
The gut-brain axis and connection
Whether we realize it or not, our brain and gut are intimately connected. Some experts even refer to the gut as the “second brain,” since many of the neurotransmitters that exist in the gut are very similar to the ones in the brain, including serotonin and histamine.
Put simply, when things are out of balance in one direction, it can affect the other. So if you’re under stress or anxiety, it can also trigger gastrointestinal tract issues and symptoms (and vice versa). This also plays out during our body’s fight-or-flight response.
Our systems are wired to help support us during times of stress, crisis or danger. Which is why during fight-or-flight mode, most of our resources get redirected toward survival. Small changes take place, including increased heart rate and blood flow to the muscles (which can be especially useful when running away from a threat). Other functions—including those of the gut—get left by the wayside.
In real moments of danger, this makes sense: If you need to run away from a predator, the last thing you’ll want to do is have to go to the bathroom. For some, this can result in stress-induced diarrhea—your brain sends a signal to your gut to empty out before the danger arrives.
Is my diarrhea caused by stress?
When we’re under stress, our stress hormones increase, and we know that our gut and digestive tract is sensitive to those hormonal changes. Stress can cause other gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
The body’s response to stress varies from individual to individual, but according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA), people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have colons that are even more sensitive and reactive to stress. Similarly, stress may also trigger flares of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
How to treat diarrhea caused by stress
It’s clear that chronic and routine stress can have a negative impact on our mental and physical health, especially our digestive tract. But learning how to cope and manage stress is highly personal: What works well for one person isn’t necessarily going to work well for you.
The most effective way to treat or prevent diarrhea caused by stress is to address the root cause and address stress-management itself. And an excellent starting point for stress management is to make an appointment with a behavioral therapist.
Observe your body’s reaction to stress: Take the time to learn how your body reacts to certain events. Can you predict which events are more likely to trigger stress-induced diarrhea? Learning to recognize your body’s response to stress can help you better prepare for and manage your symptoms when they arise.
Practice mindfulness: Deep breathing and meditation aren’t for everyone, but studies show that they can help some people relax.
Get regular exercise: Daily movement can help to boost levels of endorphins and serotonin in the brain to improve mood and reduce levels of anxiety and stress.
Use relaxation techniques when appropriate: Not all stress is avoidable, but understanding which events are most likely to cause stress-induced diarrhea can help you counteract the effects. For example,if you get stressed out before a regular team-meeting at work, beforehand you can try listening to soothing music and avoiding high-fiber foods that can make the diarrhea worse (like raw salads or fruit).
Seek out a complementary healthcare provider: Complementary healthcare providers, such as acupuncturists, traditional Chinese medicine practitioners or naturopaths may be able to address your holistic lifestyle and provide solutions that help you manage the stress or reduce your symptoms.
Our bodies are wonderfully unique, as are our reactions to stress. If stress causes you to have diarrhea, abdominal pain or other gastrointestinal symptoms, you’re not alone. But learning how to anticipate these stressful events and which management techniques work best for you can help to ease your body’s reaction to life’s unavoidable stressors.
And as mentioned above, a complementary healthcare provider can also help you decide if you need any changes to your lifestyle or provide other holistic solutions. Check out Bright Belly’s list of providers who can meet your needs.