Stress Constipation: The Causes And Cures

By Nadia Khan|Updated April 20, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Melinda Santa, LCSW

Stress can affect nearly every aspect of our lives at home, work, and socially. Stress can manifest itself in our cognitive functioning, our emotions, and our physical well-being. Stress is a key factor in many cardiovascular and vascular diseases which often translate into other health issues that may seem minor as illnesses, but can seriously interfere with daily functioning. Constipation for example is a common ailment, there are probably more commercial ads on television each day for constipation than any other condition. While the products featured in these ads can help to alleviate the discomfort of constipation by inducing a bowel movement, not many focus on the causes of the condition, and it is rarely mentioned that stress can be a factor in how and when we are able to go to the bathroom.

Bathroom Breaks

One of the leading causes of constipation is the inability to "go" when we need to go (Dukas, 2003). Many have trained their bowels to act at certain times of the day because this is more convenient. However, this is not as nature intended. If working or involved in an activity where the need arises and there is no opportunity, individuals "hold it" until an opportunity does avail itself; often to find that while the urge has "passed," the feces did not.

Our professions can cause constipation when we perform at an occupation that needs constant attending (Sun et al., 2011), such as teaching, or being a surgeon. With these two professions, individuals cannot just leave their stations and go take a poop. Even stay-at-home moms/dads with small children schedule their bathroom breaks around naptime so as to have the privacy to "really" go.

Hydration

Another way in which our jobs or lifestyles can get in the way of proper and regular bowel functioning is the inability or inconvenience of adequate hydration (Stewart, 2016). Again, occupation can get in the way, as there is not time to drink the amount of water our bodies need to function. There again, drinking liquids means taking a bathroom break to pass urine; therefore, many people who drive for a living, or are in occupations such as teaching where breaks are either inconvenient or strictly scheduled avoid drinking during the course of performing their jobs. Dehydration can cause constipation.

Diet

Diet is a key factor in how our digestive system works and our bowel movements are dependent upon how well the digestive system works ("Effects of regularly consuming dietary fibre rich soluble cocoa products on bowel habits in healthy subjects: a free-living, two-stage, randomized, crossover, single-blind intervention | Nutrition & Metabolism | Full Text," n.d.). If we lack fiber in our diets, we tend to have poor digestion, which leads to constipation. If we live on junk food, our bodies become confused as to what to discard as waste, because all we consume is waste. We can counteract constipation by consuming a diet that is rich in fiber, and low in starches.

Hypertension and Constipation

While the inability to take bathroom breaks, drink adequate fluids, and an improper diet all impact proper bowel functioning; the stress can impact our overall health in a manner that this can interfere with bowel functioning as well (Devanarayana & Rajindrajith, 2010). Stress can affect the digestive system, interfering with the proper breakdown of food in our system. Stress can also cause vascular problems that can lead to constipation in that there is inadequate blood flow to and from our bowels (Yetkin & Ileri, 2016). People with hypertension often also have hemorrhoids, which occur with the intestinal tissues become restricted; the swelling can cause constipation as it becomes difficult to pass waste through the rectum (Yetkin & Ileri, 2016).

Blockage due to vascular restrictions is a very serious problem and can lead to stomach cancer or emergency surgery to remove the blockage (Holroyd-Leduc, 2012). Having trapped waste in our systems causes bloating, fatigue, and weight gain ("Is There Toxic Waste In Your Body?," 2010). We are literally transporting toxins around in our systems each day. Gas, bad breath, and body odor are attributed to the amount of undispelled waste in our systems .

There are products to assist with bowel movements, and to "flush" our bodies of toxins and waste buildup ("Is There Toxic Waste In Your Body?," 2010). However, these are only temporary fixes when we have these problems due to our lifestyles, work, or diet. If we are stressed we are making our vascular system stressed, and if our vascular system is stressed, our bowels are unable to function properly.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Stress, proper hydration, and diet are all things we can manage either by ourselves or with the help of a professional. Chances are if you are in a job that is so demanding you cannot take bathroom breaks when needed, the job is also causing you stress. Most of us try to take these things in stride, and learn to live with it. However, living with constipation could be endangering your life in the long run.

For more information and advice about how stress can lead to other health issues, including constipation, visit BetterHelp.

References

Devanarayana, N. M., & Rajindrajith, S. (2010). Association between Constipation and Stressful Life Events in a Cohort of Sri Lankan Children and Adolescents. Journal of Tropical Pediatrics, 56(3), 144-148.

Dukas, L. (2003). Association between physical activity, fiber intake, and other lifestyle variables and constipation in a study of women. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 98(8), 1790-1796.

Effects of regularly consuming dietary fibre rich soluble cocoa products on bowel habits in healthy subjects: a free-living, two-stage, randomized, crossover, single-blind intervention | Nutrition & Metabolism | Full Text. (n.d.). Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-9-33

Holroyd-Leduc, J. R. M. H. J. (2012). Evidence-Based Geriatric Medicine. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/apollolib/detail.action?docID=875740

Is There Toxic Waste In Your Body? (2010, May 19). Retrieved May 17, 2017, from

Stewart, S. (2016). Constipation. Nursing Standard (2014+); London, 30(31), 61. https://doi.org/http://dx.doi.org.contentproxy.phoenix.edu/10.7748/ns.30.31.61.s47

Sun, S. X., DiBonaventura, M., Purayidathil, F. W., Wagner, J.-S., Dabbous, O., & Mody, R. (2011). Impact of Chronic Constipation on Health-Related Quality of Life, Work Productivity, and Healthcare Resource Use: An Analysis of the National Health and Wellness Survey. Digestive Diseases and Sciences, 56(9), 2688-2695.

Yetkin, E., & Ileri, M. (2016). Dilating venous disease: Pathophysiology and a systematic aspect to different vascular territories. Medical Hypotheses, 91, 73-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2016.04.016

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