All that stress you’ve been taking can leave you constipated. Here’s how

Updated on:7 May 2021, 21:24pm IST
Emotions triggered by stress and your gut share a cause and effect relationship with each other. Here’s how stress can give you constipation.
Chetna Pattnaik
What does stress have to do with your tummy? Turns out, quite a lot. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

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.

Stress will push you towards a gut trap. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

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:

  1. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
    Your stress might also contribute to the development or worsening of IBS symptoms by increasing or decreasing activity within the autonomic nervous system.
Staying away from stress means better gut health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Stress can also result in dysbiosis, causing the bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract to become imbalanced, which may further contribute to IBS-related constipation.

  1. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
    IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Chronic stress, depression, and adverse life events seem to increase inflammation which might set off IBD. 

So, if stress is making you suffer from constipation, here are a few things you can do:

  • You can put a check on your constipation with over-the-counter laxatives.
  • Yoga, exercise, and meditation may help to alleviate stress.
  • If you are finding it difficult to deal with stress and anxiety by yourself, consider going for therapy. 

Also, listen:

  • If you have IBS, low-dose antidepressants are said to help reduce feelings of anxiety by affecting the neurotransmitters in the brain and the gut. 
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes, such as adjusting your diet and getting ample sleep.

Chetna Pattnaik Chetna Pattnaik

Understanding fitness the hard way, Chetna has finally learnt to strike a balance between her protein shake and her beer and making room for her writing desk and her gym at the same time.