Stress and IBS

There is a reason IBS is sometimes called a “nervous stomach.”

Woman screaming and pulling on hair with stress.

Your whole body suffers when you’re under too much stress; including your bowels.
© Can Stock Photo

Studies show that stress doesn’t CAUSE IBS, but anyone with IBS knows that stress can trigger  IBS symptoms or even a full IBS attack.

Any time there’s a  lot of stress in my life I immediately start to feel the abdominal pain in my colon, and other symptoms of IBS. So what is the link between stress and ibs.

Stress, anxiety, and fear all work on the bowels. Some peoplel believe It’s mother natures way of preparing you for being chased by a predator.

Why does stress get your bowels on high alert?

A lot of animals defecate (poop) when they’re stressed or afraid. Human being are kind of the same way.

Right now we’re at the top of the food chain (usually). But it wasn’t always like that.

Back in the days when human beings were prey, this was probably a defense mechanism.

If you lived back when people were getting chased by predators,  pooping yourself could do 2 things (sorry to be blunt).

First, it makes you less appealing as a meal.

Second, if you leave behind a… well, a package, to distract the predator, you may gain a few seconds to help you survive.

How stress is different today?

Stressed out man with messy hair and clothes.

Our ancestors had stress, but then the stress went away. Today the stress never ends.
© Can Stock Photo

The trouble is, we were never built to be under the constant stress we’re under today.

Mortgage, boss, spouse, kids, technology, etc. all can be big stressors. It used to be “AHHHHH, a lion” stress/fear/maybe poop, then “Whew, I made it” no more fear and worry until the next predator.

Now, some of us are worried or stressed day and night. Sure some of us worry just some of the time. But most people worry (a form of stress) and IBS sufferers can experience that worry as an IBS attack.

Morning Diarrhea and Stress:

A lot of people have stress first thing in the morning.

The day is getting started, there are a million things to do. Your mind starts racing. The kids have to be at daycare or somewhere, you need to pack a lunch for them and maybe yourself, you STILL have to get ready. You have to get to work, the boss is a jerk, that project is due, and on and on. Then on the way to daycare, you run out of gas or get a flat.  UGH! No wonder stress is so high.

I think that’s why a lot of people with IBS have stress induced diarrhea in the morning.

Stress, IBS and Bacteria:

A recent study showed that stress actually changes the kind of bacteria you have in your colon (bowels). Being stressed causes “good” bacteria to die off, and “bad” bacteria to grow and thrive. Having a bunch of unfriendly bacteria in your bowels might be one reason why stress can lead to IBS over time.

There are many ways that the mind and the body, and particularly the bowels are connected .

What can you do about stress and IBS?

First of all, find techniques to cut down on stress and worry. There are many ways to reduce stress.

  • Business man meditating to reduce stress and IBS.

    Yoga, meditation, and hypnosis may seem strange or difficult, but you can fit them into your life. They can definitely help with stress and IBS.
    © Can Stock Photo

    Yoga: This ancient practice is an excellent way to reduce stress, and also has other health benefits.

  • Excercise: (that dirty word) can help with stress AND IBS symptoms according to my gastroenterologist.
  • Daily meditation: there are many kinds of meditation. I’ve been working with mindfullness meditation and that helps a lot (except when I get lazy and don’t do it).
  • Therapy: Don’t be afraid to try getting some talk therapy with a psychologist. This can be a really good way to work things out, and get to the root of what’s bothering you.

The Serenity Prayer from my grandmother’s wall

One more that I’ll mention. My grandmother used to have a plaque on her wall with the serenity prayer. It can be a great way for many people to reduce stress.
I’ll give you two versions. One is an affirmation for those that prefer that, and the other is a prayer.

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.


Serenity Affirmation
This day may I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Either way, living your life this way can lead to a lot less stress, and just maybe, less IBS.

More info…

Find out more about how the mind and body work together on the Brain Gut Connection page

Find out more about how your bowels work on the Human Digestive System page.

Or find out about foods that may be triggering your IBS in the Food Intolerance section.


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