Can Stress Cause Diarrhea? Understanding How Stress Affects Your Gut

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 11, 2022

Dealing with stressful situations may hurt your body, in particular, your stomach. Diarrhea may be a symptom of a health condition, but it is also associated with anxiety and stress. If you experience diarrhea and you don't have any other symptoms, chances are your body is stressed out, and it's a symptom creating uneasy tension in your stomach. Because the stomach is sensitive to stress, it may result in experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, including stomachaches. Understanding how stress affects the stomach will provide useful insight into how to get relief when it gets upset. The following details provide insight on how your emotions affect your gut and practical tips on what you can do to help yourself feel better.

Gut Stress Is No Fun

How Emotions Are Connected To Your Stomach

Many people wonder it does stress cause diarrhea, and if so, why does it happen? When stress affects your stomach, it's a feeling you don't want to experience. The stomach is made of many nerves similar to the brain. It is considered the second largest part of the body comprised of many nerves. These nerves are connected to how your body responds when under pressure or stress. The body engages in other actions when you encounter something you consider as a threat. Usually, it is something you don't want to do but likely creates a form or anxiety. Your heart rate goes up, your muscles get tense, and in some cases, your colon increases contractions. The reaction from your colon makes conditions favorable for diarrhea.

Sometimes stress causes issues with your poop, including constipation and irregular bowel movements. The brain and the stomach communicate back and forth with each other, meaning they are connected in ways people don't realize. When you start feeling anxious, it cues the conversation for the stomach and brain to start. The brain can influence actions in the stomach and vice versa. When you feel discomforts such as aches or pains, your gut is experiencing spasms. The spasms create a reaction for areas of your digestive system depending on the level of stress you are experiencing. In other words, when conditions are favorable, stress and diarrhea go hand in hand when the stomach gets aggravated.

Gut Stress Reaction And Variations To Notice

If you experience a stomachache related to stress, the outcome may vary depending on your digestive system. Every stomach is different, and some may be aware of other digestion issues. Something else to consider when wondering does stress causes diarrhea is whether your digestive tract has other issues going on. It may not be as serious, but it may be enough for you to notice differences in how you experience a bowel movement or constipation.

Stomach and gut symptoms you may notice in connection to the body's reaction to stress may include cramps, nausea, lack of appetite, indigestion, unusual hunger, constipation, and diarrhea. In some cases, peptic ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome or IBS may be influenced by stress.

Sometimes you can spot when these issues occur. For example, if diarrhea occurs when you're having problems pooping, you're likely experiencing tension or when you're upset leading to constipation. It is believed that stress causes diarrhea to occur more often than constipation, but the level of your stress likely determines how your stomach will affect your bowels.

When A Gut Condition Is Triggered By Stress

So what if something else is going on affecting your digestive system? Some experiencing stress causing diarrhea may have digestive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). There are different forms of these conditions, and their symptoms may be triggered by stress.

Conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and other gut conditions signal areas of the digestive system, including the rectum and colon, are already experiencing some form of inflammation due to the disease or illness. Add stress to the equation, and your symptoms could be more challenging. Constipation or diarrhea doesn't mean a chronic condition with your stomach exists, but if you notice other symptoms accompanying either consult with your doctor.

What You May Eat Also Add Stress To Your Stomach

It is recommended not to eat something heavy before bedtime since it may affect the efficiency of how your stomach processes food. But when stress is present, it makes digestion more complicated. If you're under pressure trying to meet a deadline and you stay up late eating junk to help you stay awake, and then rely on coffee to keep you going the next day, your stomach is going to suffer the consequences. You may experience discomfort when pooping, and any symptoms may be worse if you have a gut condition.

Food and stress both stimulate your stomach, and each may do so on different levels. If your stomach is struggling, you'll have problems when going to the bathroom. When your stomach isn't feeling well, and you know you're under a lot of pressure and frustration, it is a sign to slow down, take it easy, and work on reducing your stress. Be aware of what you are eating and drinking and work toward consuming healthier options.

You Don't Have To Suffer When Stress Affects Your Poop

If your stress caused diarrhea or an upset stomach, there are options for immediate relief. There are over-the-counter medicines available to treat related stomach issues. You can take something for constipation if you need to get your bowels moving. There are also options to stop diarrhea and things you can take before you eat if certain foods are the culprit causing digestive symptoms. Experts practicing holistic medicine may suggest peppermint oil to treat systems.

If you have a gut condition or more complex stomach issues, talk to your doctor about treatment options. Some anti-depressants are effective for treating nerves in your stomach. Cognitive behavioral therapy may introduce relaxation and stress reduction techniques for persistent symptoms. Ask your doctor or dietitian about making changes to your diet if you experience constipation or diarrhea resulting from stress. Certain fruits, veggies, and gluten-free foods may help your gut manage stress better.

Signs You Should See A Doctor

When experiencing stress, diarrhea may not be the only thing to notice when your stomach isn't feeling well. Even when you know stress is playing a role in what your stomach is going through; if you experience something unusual, it may be time to contact your doctor or seek immediate medical attention. There could be something else going on contributing to your symptoms. Seek medical attention if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Bleeding from your rectum or bloody stools
  • Extreme thirst or dehydration
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Fever lasting several days over 102 F

What You Can Do To Manage Stress And Your Gut

When your stomach gets upset due to your nerves, it helps to know what to do to keep stress levels down. Some forms of stress are okay, but when it leads to excess worrying about problems at home, work, or with your relationships, it could irritate your digestive system. Learn to understand what triggers your stress and how your stomach reacts. Then, determine actions you can do to minimize stress and what to do when it causes problems for your stomach. Here are other actions you can take to control stress and manage your digestion system:

Gut Stress Is No Fun

  • Keep track of what causes your stress and symptoms you experience in a journal. Write about what you are feeling and the actions you take to get relief.
  • Try not to take on more tasks than necessary. Avoid pushing yourself too hard and learn to say "no." Don't be ashamed to put yourself first.
  • Tackle responsibilities by prioritizing them. Take care of the most important things first and work your way down your to-do list. Do things at your own pace and try avoiding perfectionism.
  • Explore your problems from every perspective before trying to solve them. Learn assertiveness and problem-solving skills. Sometimes our emotions get the best of us, causing decisions to be made out of spite. Then, later after the fact, you feel guilty or upset because the situation could have been handled better if you thought things through first.
  • Remain positive about things going good in your life. Sometimes things will not happen in the manner you want them too, especially when you have no control over the outcome.
  • Participate in a social group, counseling, or cognitive therapy to talk about your feelings and to get things off your chest. This option is also helpful for dealing with anxiety.
  • Engage in forms of exercise and physical activity and make plans to do so regularly. Reduce stress by walking, running, yoga, and other healthy activities to encourage the body to release hormones to help your mood.
  • Learn how to relax through relaxation techniques such as relaxing muscle exercises, deep breathing exercises, and visualization. You earn more benefits when practicing these options regularly.

These suggestions are just a few ideas to help you understand what you can do to reduce stress and manage your gut. It is important to explore your options and make an honest effort to implement them to see results. Accept how your body responds to stress and allow time to adjust and address your issues to encourage effective results.

Below are commonly asked questions on this topic:

Why does stress give me diarrhea?
How can I stop diarrhea from stress?
Can you get diarrhea from anxiety?
What is anxiety poop?
What are the symptoms of excessive stress?
Why do I have diarrhea but not sick?
How long does anxiety diarrhea last?
Is having diarrhea everyday normal?
When should I be worried about diarrhea?
Can stress affect your bowels?

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