Can Anxiety Cause Diarrhea?
Stress Diarrhea And More
Diarrhea (also known as stress diarrhea in this instance) can occur when someone is under mental duress such as anxiety and stress. The brain to gut connection, referred to as the brain-gut axis, can in affect loosen your bowels and cause other gastrointestinal symptoms. Taking time to understand why your anxiety occurs and how to ease it will help stop this.
Here is Can Anxiety Cause Diarrhea? Why and 5 Ways to Manage It
In this blog, I’ll be discussing one specific way that anxiety impacts our physical health: diarrhea.
My guess is that you came here because you saw the title Can Anxiety Cause Diarrhea? Why And 5 Ways to Manage It and became curious because, some days, your anxiety has you running to the bathroom almost constantly.
It’s the worst.
Maybe you came here curious to learn more about this because you struggle with sudden diarrhea, and it’s got you wondering, maybe I struggle with anxiety too. Maybe a part of you has always wondered about the side of yourself that seems to constantly feel worried and restless. Maybe you have a nervous stomach or your gut always feels restless, but you never realized the two could be connected.
Despite the specific reason you’ve carved out this time to read this and learn more so you can better take care of yourself, we are all here for the same reason – the same symptom. You are certainly not alone if you are more than well aware of how uncomfortable, frustrating, and inconvenient stress diarrhea can be. And let’s face it, stress and anxiety are just as distressing, if not more so. At times I’ve found myself frustrated thinking, okay, I already have to deal with the emotional turmoil, trouble sleeping, and racing heart rate…and now this?
I finally decided to do my research and what I found along the way is how incredibly common this physical symptom of anxiety is. So, if you’ve arrived at today’s blog to learn more about how your anxiety is causing ‘anxiety diarrhea’ and how to manage it, you’ve come to the right place.
Anxiety is a mental health condition that causes a variety of symptoms. It starts with the nervousness and worrisome thoughts that can also cause physical symptoms like diarrhea. And to make matters worse, some people will worry about having diarrhea, particularly in public, unfamiliar, or other inconvenient settings like driving, which can further worsen their anxiety and stomach troubles.
I hope this blog provides you with the information you need to make some helpful changes in your life to find both physical and mental relief.
What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a fairly common problem characterized by loose or watery and, sometimes, more frequent bowel movements. Thankfully, it’s usually pretty short-lived and does not last more than a few hours to days. However, it can be a problem if it lasts longer. Acute diarrhea lasts for about three weeks, while in more severe cases (chronic diarrhea), it can last a month or longer. If this is the case, you may have an infection, inflammatory bowel diseases (IBS), or another more serious disorder.
Some symptoms and signs of diarrhea can include:
- Abdominal cramps or pain
- Loose, watery stools
- Blood or mucus in the stool
- Urgent need to have a bowel movement
Viruses, bacteria, parasites, lactose intolerance, fructose, artificial sweeteners, medications, surgery, or other digestive disorders can all be potential causes for diarrhea. So can the state of your mental health.
Can stress cause diarrhea?
Your gut and mental health are closely intertwined. Stress and anxiety affect your intestines’ muscles, impacting their ability to filter harmful gut bacteria. The resulting inflammation leads to diarrhea. Additionally, your body releases hormones alerting your body, and your brain sends a message to your bowels to increase bowel movements.
Can anxiety affect bowel movements?
When you experience anxiety, hormones from your brain cause a chemical imbalance that can interfere with your digestive tract. When these signals and hormones enter the digestive tract, it can affect bowel movements (loose bowels, thin poop, flat poop) and cause stress diarrhea and other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
Why does anxiety give me diarrhea?
Your gut’s nervous system, which regulates your GI tract, connects to your central nervous system, where chemical messengers send signals from your gut to your brain and vice versa. So, your mood symptoms contribute to your physical symptoms, meaning your anxiety can give you stress diarrhea.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome, more commonly known as IBS, is not life-threatening, and it does not have an underlying disease. This gastrointestinal disorder is very common, more so in women and people with depression and anxiety disorders. The latter is likely because of factors like high emotional stress levels, which can trigger it, while anxiety can also trigger it and make it worse. A change in routine may contribute to an IBS attack as well.
The symptoms of IBS can be distressing and may include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain, which is usually relieved after bowel movement
How do I stop diarrhea from anxiety?
The symptoms of IBS can be distressing so try these:
- Take deep breathes
- Do a few gentle stretches
- Take a short walk
- Find some self-compassion. Give yourself the advice you need to hear
- Sit or lie down and relax by loosening the tension in your muscles
5 Ways To Reduce Anxiety
Anxiety is something that may take weeks to months to reduce. Yet there are also things we can do right now to reduce your anxiety. Grounding techniques are a beneficial way to manage your stress and reduce anxiety. Here are five you can try:
The 5-4-3-2-1 Method
The 5-4-3-2-1 method is about engaging your senses and incorporating counting as an additional means to focus your attention and relax. Start with 5, writing down or saying to yourself 5 things you hear. Then, list 4 things you see. Continue counting down, naming 3 things you can touch from where you are sitting or standing, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
These numbers are by no means rigid, and you are welcome to switch up the sense with the number. The idea is to pay attention to the little things around you that you may not always notice.
Notice and touch items around you
From wherever you are sitting or standing, touch something that’s around you. It doesn’t have to be some foreign plant (maybe don’t do that) or anything out of the ordinary. It could be something you touch all the time, like the water bottle that’s always sitting at your desk. Only now your job is to really notice what it feels like. Is it light or heavy? Cool or warm? Focus on the texture. What is the color? Be specific.
Go for a walk
If you feel anxious, one of the best things you can do is step outside for a brisk walk. This is another great opportunity to use your senses and tune into what is around you. Notice how your feet feel as they hit the ground. You might even count your footsteps and begin to notice or develop a rhythm.
Take deep breaths
Take long, deep inhales and exhales. Each time you take an inhale, say to yourself, “inhale calm,” and each time you exhale, say, “exhale worry.” Feel free to change these words so that they align with what you need. And, as you do this, turn your focus to the feeling of air filling up your lungs and the feeling of it being pushed back out.
Try mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation involves focusing your awareness on the present moment, which helps reduce stress and anxiety. This mental training (try practicing it during your morning routine) teaches you to let go of negativity and slow down your thoughts so you can calm both your mind and body.
What can I do daily to help with my anxiety and diarrhea?
Sometimes the most significant difference you make lies in your daily choices and lifestyle changes.
Here are a few things you can do every day to help address your mental health and your gut health:
- Limit your alcohol use
- Avoid tobacco
- Decrease your caffeine intake
- Eat a well balanced diet with lean protein, who grains, fruits and vegetables
- Stay hydrated
How common is diarrhea with anxiety and stress?
Stress diarrhea, along with other digestive issues, are common with stress and anxiety. In fact, people with anxiety are twice as likely to suffer from it, and over half of people with IBS have generalized anxiety disorder.
Because of how common anxiety and diarrhea are, it can be valuable if you talk with others about what going on inside you. They most likely can relate and it will make things less stressful for you.
Can therapy help with my anxiety and diarrhea?
If your symptoms impact your quality of life, therapy can help you work through your feelings of worry and fear that make it difficult to lead a normal life.
Therapy is an incredibly helpful resource for learning effective techniques to manage anxiety. Cognitive- Behavioural Therapy (CBT), in particular, can help improve GI symptoms through the techniques it teaches. In CBT, patients learn how to respond to anxiety-triggering situations and how to identify anxiety-provoking thoughts. Hypnotherapy is another common form of therapy used for reducing IBS symptoms.
At what point should I see a doctor?
If you do not experience any improvements in your symptoms for either anxiety, digestive issues, or both, it is recommended that you talk to your healthcare provider.
Here are a few other reasons you may need to reach out to a medical professional:
- Your having a hard time swallowing
- You have bloody stool
- You’re experiencing weight loss
- You vomit for no apparent reason
- Your bowel movements and gas do not relieve your cramping or stomach pain
- Your symptoms get worse or last several weeks
Your healthcare provider can help you determine the cause of your symptoms, both physical and mental, so they can give you suggestions for treatment and relieving symptoms.
Can Anxiety Cause Diarrhea Conclusion
Can anxiety cause diarrhea? YES
It’s actually quite cruel because what often happens is the stress of anxiety causes nervous stomach and loose bowels. And then that feeling of potential stress diarrhea triggers your anxiety even more!
Its a cruel circle of stress and anxiety with diarrhea.
However you can get control of your bowels and upset stomach as you learn to ease your anxiety, by growing your anxiety relief toolbox.
What is one tool that you have found to be useful when you notice yourself with an upset stomach leading to diarrhea due to anxiety?
Leave it in the comments below to help others who are also struggling.