Does Stress Cause Constipation?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated September 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most people experience stress at various points in their lives. It could be when we're taking a big exam, when we’re starting at a new school or a new job, or when we’re experiencing a challenging situation at work, with friends, or with family. While a little stress is common and can even be good for us sometimes, if it becomes overwhelming and goes on for long periods without relief, it can have mental, emotional, and physical effects—including constipation. 

If this is something you are experiencing, it can feel very frustrating. In this article, we will explore the physical and mental effects of stress, why stress can cause constipation, and ways to address and prevent stress-related constipation.

Is Stress Affecting You Physically?

The Physical And Mental Effects Of Stress

When stress gets out of hand and goes on for long periods, you may experience a variety of unpleasant effects on your mood and your body. This can happen slowly over time, or acutely due to stressful life events. This is true of all types of stress, including physical, emotional, and psychological stress.

Some of the physical, emotional, and psychological effects of stress can include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Headaches 
  • Muscle tension 
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness 

These are just a few examples, and there may be more somatic symptoms like fatigue. As the American Psychological Association (APA) details, physical, emotional, and psychological stress leads to an impact on “all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.” Stress can also make your body’s adrenal glands release adrenaline. This chemical is commonly associated with the “fight or flight” response. In the gastrointestinal system, stress can impact how fast food moves through the body, “which can cause either diarrhea or constipation.” 


Stress And Constipation

Now that we understand the many possible effects of stress, let’s explore the link between stress and constipation in particular. 

"Constipation" is a term used to describe having infrequent bowel movements, generally fewer than three bowel movements a week. This indicates a reduction in intestinal movement. While intestinal movement slows naturally from time to time and experiencing constipation is common, “chronic constipation,” according to the Mayo Clinic, involves experiencing infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools for several weeks or more. 

There are several constipation symptoms one may experience. While your situation may differ and constipation symptoms vary, here are a few of the signs you may be experiencing this intestinal issue. 

  • You have fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • You have hard or lumpy stools
  • You are experiencing abdominal fullness
  • You are straining to go
  • You have a feeling that you are not getting everything out

Leaving these unaddressed can aggravate gastrointestinal symptoms. If ignored for significant lengths of time, chronic constipation could lead to hemorrhoids, fecal impaction, or anal fissure, among other complications. Constipation can also affect blood flow to the surrounding vital organs. In some cases, it can divert blood flow due to the blockage, causing an increase in blood pressure and damage to your cardiovascular system

Why Does Stress Cause Constipation?

Stress may cause constipation for a few reasons. First, the physical effects of stress hormones on the body can cause constipation. The gut is its own ecosystem, and having healthy gut bacteria can be important. In fact, there may be more neurons in your gut than in your entire spinal cord. Because of the importance of the gut and normal healthy bacteria, constipation can be one way that your body registers stress.

In addition, when you are stressed, you may be too overwhelmed to take good care of yourself. This may cause dietary and physical lifestyle changes, like:

  • Drinking less water
  • Skipping meals
  • Overeating
  • Eating unhealthy foods
  • Not exercising
  • Shallow breathing

All of these changes may contribute to both the stress you are experiencing and the constipation. 

How To Prevent and Relieve Stress-Related Constipation

Experiencing constipation can be uncomfortable, frustrating and cause physical symptoms like stomach pain. But, by incorporating healthy habits for your physical and mental health, you can reduce stress and help prevent such stress-related constipation. 

If this is something you’re concerned about, you might consider some of the following approaches: 

Getty/Inside Creative House
Is Stress Affecting You Physically?

Maintain A Healthy Diet And Exercise Routine

As discussed above, one way that stress can cause constipation is through its impact on our habits—for many of us, when we become stressed, we may stop eating well, drinking enough water, and getting adequate exercise. Even if we don’t get constipation, we may experience other gastrointestinal symptoms or changes in our stool (like lumpy stool bowel movements).

With this in mind, a key approach to reducing or preventing stress-related constipation can be to make changes to your diet to ensure you’re drinking plenty of water, eating balanced meals, and getting enough fiber. Not only can these actions help with prevention, they can also relieve constipation in some cases. For guidance before making dietary changes, it is best to consult with your doctor. 

In addition, maintaining an exercise regimen can help. Exercise can help control your bowel movements while also helping with stress relief. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week—and even just walking can be a great option.

Care For Your Mental Health

Along with diet and exercise, finding ways to reduce stress and care for your mental health can help. To reduce stress, consider incorporating meditation, breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation exercises into your daily routine.

If you would like further assistance with stress management skills or want help with any mental health conditions you may be experiencing, consider consulting a mental health professional  who can work with you to help reduce and cope with stress. And, if you are feeling stressed, know that you are not alone: these feelings are widespread. The APA conducts an annual survey regarding the state of stress in the United States. In October 2022, they found that more than 25% of U.S. adults reported that most days they are “so stressed they can’t function.”

For some people, traveling to an in-person therapy appointment can be an additional layer of stress—given transportation, possible traffic, and sitting in a new office with a new person. With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can connect with a therapist from the comfort of your own home or wherever you have an internet connection, without the stress of a commute. 

One research study examined the effectiveness of internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) to reduce stress in individuals experiencing elevated stress or stress-related disorders. The study concluded that the results provided evidence of the “efficacy of ICBT to reduce stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in adults experiencing challenges withfrom elevated stress or stress-related disorders.”

Read below for a couple of reviews of BetterHelp counselors:

Counselor Reviews

"Lisa is extremely easy to talk to and is always willing to talk to you at any time. Her schedule is flexible which makes it convenient to work into a busy daily schedule. She is knowledgeable and is helpful in understanding why I am stressed and helps to work through it to destress and move forward, including short and long term goals."

"Elizabeth is amazing! I began counseling because I was in a huge transitional phase. My entire life was turned over. Elizabeth helped me manage my stress, encouraged me to take good care of myself, and steered me away from beating myself up for things that were out of my control. I'm so grateful for her guidance and insights. This has been the best counseling experience I've ever had."


Stress can have a variety of mental and physical effects, including constipation. If this is something you’re experiencing, you may consider trying some of the strategies above to reduce stress and prevent stress-related constipation. If you would like further help in reducing and coping with stress, online therapy may be able to help.

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