Stress and anxiety can trigger all sorts of reactions in a body, and if for you they lead to diarrhoea, you’re not alone. Here is why it happens and how to manage it.
As it turns out, it is quite common to experience diarrhoea when you become stressed or anxious, and the reasons behind it lay in the connection between your brain and your gut and the balance chemicals in your body.
When your mental health takes a sudden hit, internal messengers carry signals from one to another, and your gut responds with physical symptoms.
While it is normal to experience diarrhoea in difficult situations once in a while, chronic bouts of it under prolonged stress are a reason to see your doctor to rule out IBS.
The good news is that there are ways to manage this unpleasant symptom. Here is what health experts recommend.
Meanwhile, if you live in the UK, you could be eligible for £691 per month if you have one of these mental health issues.
Diarrhoea is your body’s natural response to stress
Doctors explain stress-triggered diarrhoea by your body's acute response - ‘fight-or-flight reaction’ - that is programmed to help it handle a perceived threat.
When coming across something potentially threatening, your body launches a range of physical changes and activates the sympathetic nervous system, resulting in an increased heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and decreased digestion.
The latter helps your body redirect resources elsewhere and makes the gut and small intestine slow, while the colon's activity increases, which leads to gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea.
Some experts explain the stress-related diarrhoea by a change in chemicals in our bodies - the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline - as they impact the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut.
Stressful situations get your intestines cramping and trigger the onslaught of diarrhoea.
Here is how to manage stress-triggered diarrhoea
Doctors recommend various stress management methods to help your body overcome outside stressors and build a better response to them.
Certain lifestyle changes may be especially helpful if your stress causes an upset stomach.
Eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise and drinking tea with herbal medicines like ginger can also help build a stress-resistant gut.
Regularly practising yoga and meditation are known for improving mental health, while ‘on the spot’ strategies such as visualization, deep breathing exercises, and muscle relaxation exercises also have the potential to quiet down your bowels and spare you from further diarrhoea episodes.
Some people will require medications such as antidepressants to overcome both mental and physical symptoms.
It’s a known fact that stress and anxiety can contribute to the development of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), in which case diarrhoea can become chronic. To rule it out, schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Keep in mind that if your stress-triggered diarrhoea is accompanied by blood in your stools or any sign of rectal bleeding, high fever or severe abdominal pain, you should see medical attention immediately.
- Very Well Health: 'How Stress and Anxiety Cause Diarrhea'
- Healthline: 'Why Anxiety Causes Diarrhea and How to Handle It'