Have you ever been so nervous that it feels like the anxiety is kicking you in the gut? Ever been so excited that you’ve experienced butterflies in your tummy? From these two examples, you can probably guess that your brain and gastrointestinal tract share a great bond and are in constant communication.
Emotions triggered by stress and an upset stomach share a cause and effect relationship with each other. Whether it’s your brain or your bowels that are driving the stress bus, the truth remains constipation is not fun.
How is it connected?
The autonomic nervous system, which is a network of nerves that connect the brain to major organs, controls most of our bodily functions. This system also comprises the sympathetic nervous system that prepares your body for stressful environments and fight-or-flight emergencies.
It also includes the parasympathetic nervous system that communicates with the enteric nervous system located in your gastrointestinal tract and prepares your body for digestion. It is also responsible for calming your body down after experiencing a high-anxiety situation.
Enteric nervous system
The enteric nervous system is also referred to as your second brain considering the fact that it is full of neurons. It produces most of the serotonin in the body. It uses chemical and hormonal neurotransmitters to communicate back and forth with your brain as well as the rest of your nervous system.
Serotonin helps with digestion by constricting the smooth muscles which support the movement of food in your colon.
During periods of heightened anxiety, the brain releases hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and serotonin which lead to stomach spasms.
If your whole colon suffers from these spasms, you may get diarrhea. If the spasms are isolated to one area of the colon, digestion may halt, resulting in constipation.
When you eat, the neurons that line your digestive tract signal your intestines to contract and digest your food. When you’re under stress, this digestive process can slow down. If the stress you have is severe or long-term, the stomach pain can be chronic.
Certain conditions that cause constipation can be made worse by stress:
Stress can also result in dysbiosis, causing the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to become imbalanced, which may further contribute to IBS-related constipation.
So, if stress is making you suffer from constipation, here are a few things you can do: