Can Stress Trigger Constipation? Understanding the Hyperlink

We’ve all felt it earlier than—feeling so confused that your abdomen does a couple of turns, and even causes you to run to the toilet. Typically, it might really feel prefer it stops you up altogether. However can stress really trigger constipation?

It isn’t in your head: Stress is a widely known reason behind constipation, which is outlined as having fewer than three bowel actions per week, in keeping with the Nationwide Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Ailments. It might additionally trigger onerous, dry, or painful stools that require straining whilst you “go,” or a sense that you have not handed all of the stool in your system.

Why does this occur, precisely? There are literally a couple of causes. Be taught extra concerning the brain-gut connection right here, plus expert-backed tricks to relieve constipation from stress.

How does stress trigger constipation?

“Stress can set off a posh sequence of physique responses,” says Deborah Gilman, PhD, licensed psychologist and proprietor of Fox Chapel Psychological Providers. This consists of adjustments in your nervous system, a launch of sure hormones, and adjustments within the gut-brain axis.

Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system

The sympathetic nervous system is usually known as the “struggle or flight” response, per the Cleveland Clinic. “When the physique perceives stress, the sympathetic nervous system turns into dominant, resulting in adjustments in varied bodily capabilities, together with digestion,” Gilman says.

Particularly, stress can inhibit the exercise of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is chargeable for relaxation and digestion. By slowing this method down, gastrointestinal motility (the motion of meals by means of the GI tract) additionally slows down, resulting in a lowered frequency of bowel actions, she provides.

Launch of stress hormones

When the physique is below stress, sure hormones are launched, Gilman says. Two of those hormones are cortisol and adrenaline1. Whereas these hormones could be useful when coping with perceived threats or hazard, they aren’t at all times useful in day-to-day life. In actual fact, an excessive amount of cortisol can have an effect on many various elements of your physique, together with your coronary heart, immunity, reproductive organs, and sure, your intestine, per the Cleveland Clinic.

That is very true for those who’re chronically confused, which might result in an imbalance of those hormones and trigger a dysregulated nervous system, she provides.

“Cortisol has been proven to change intestinal motility and sensitivity, contributing to constipation,” Gilman says.

Adjustments within the gut-brain axis

Together with altering hormone ranges, stress impacts the communication between the intestine and the mind, Gilman says. The intestine is usually known as the “second mind” as a result of it has an intensive community of neurons often known as the enteric nervous system, in keeping with a September 2023 overview within the Journal of Physiology.

“This intricate community of nerves communicates bidirectionally with the central nervous system, forming the gut-brain axis,” Gilman says. Research have proven that stress-induced adjustments within the gut-brain axis can have an effect on gastrointestinal transit time, leading to much less frequent or irregular bowel actions, she provides.

Adjustments to consuming behaviors

Stress can even result in adjustments in consuming habits and behaviors, says Sarah Robbins, MD, gastroenterologist and founding father of Effectively Sunday Well being Company. This might embrace lowered urge for food, adjustments in weight-reduction plan, or irregular consuming patterns—all of which might contribute to constipation.

For instance, consuming much less fiber-rich meals or consuming much less water throughout instances of stress may end up in tougher poop that’s troublesome to cross, she provides.

Different causes of constipation

Moreover stress, there are different causes individuals get constipation. These most in danger embrace the next, per the NIDDK:

  • Ladies, notably whereas pregnant or after childbirth
  • Older adults
  • Individuals who don’t eat sufficient fiber
  • Individuals who don’t drink sufficient liquids
  • Folks taking sure medicines or dietary supplements, comparable to antacids, seizure medicines, iron dietary supplements, or narcotic ache medicines
  • Folks with sure well being issues, comparable to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Individuals who steadily ignore the urge to have a bowel motion

Can stress make different GI situations worse?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel illness (IBD) are two GI situations that may be worsened by stress, says Dr. Robbins.

Stress and IBS

“The connection between stress and IBS is well-documented,” says Dr. Robbins. IBS is a useful gastrointestinal dysfunction that features signs like stomach ache, bloating, and altered bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or each), she explains. Stress and IBS could be linked within the following methods, in keeping with Dr. Robbins.

  • Stress as a symptom set off: This could possibly be as a result of individuals with IBS have extra delicate guts that reply acutely to emphasize. Elevated intestine sensitivity to ache or discomfort known as visceral hypersensitivity, which might unlikely have an effect on an individual with out IBS, per the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Intestine-brain axis: Stress can have an effect on the communication between the central and enteric nervous techniques (i.e., the mind and intestine). This may result in adjustments in muscle contractions within the intestine and alter the intestine microbiota—each of which might contribute to IBS signs, per the Journal of Physiology overview.
  • Hyperactivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis: The HPA axis helps regulate stress within the physique, per Michigan State College. The hypothalamus, pituitary glands, and adrenal glands are sometimes hyperactive in individuals with IBS, which might result in overproduction of stress hormones like cortisol. This may have an effect on intestine and immune perform, and make IBS worse.
  • Psychological co-morbidities: Folks with IBS-C (constipation) have a better prevalence of psychological issues like anxiousness and melancholy, in keeping with a January 2021 meta-analysis in BMC Gastroenterology.

Stress and IBD

The connection between stress and IBD is complicated. Whereas stress doesn’t trigger IBD, it may considerably have an effect on the course of the illness, says Dr. Robbins. Listed below are some ways in which stress influences IBD, per Dr. Robbins:

  • Exacerbation of signs: Stress is well known to worsen IBD signs, with sufferers usually reporting that traumatic life occasions precede flare-ups, per Penn Drugs.
  • Inflammatory responses: Stress can have an effect on your physique’s inflammatory responses, which might contribute to irritation within the intestine.
  • Intestine-brain axis: Stress can have an effect on your nervous system and communication between the intestine and the mind. This may have an effect on the immune response, which might affect IBD exercise.

Learn how to deal with stress-induced constipation

Whereas stress-induced constipation is irritating, there are a lot of totally different remedy methods you possibly can attempt at dwelling.

Change up your weight-reduction plan

Dr. Robbins recommends making slight adjustments to your weight-reduction plan. This might imply incorporating meals to make you poop—like oats, entire grains, and fruits. Different adjustments you can also make embrace:

  • Upping your fiber consumption
  • Ingesting loads of water and fluids
  • Ingesting heat liquids within the morning to stimulate your digestive system
  • Consuming mindfully
  • Including prunes or prune juice to your every day routine, that are pure laxatives

Get an stomach therapeutic massage

“Gently massaging your stomach may also help stimulate your intestines to maneuver stool alongside the GI tract,” says Dr. Robbins. This may be executed by calmly urgent on the decrease proper aspect of your stomach and dealing in upward, round motions till you have reached your proper ribs, throughout to your left ribs, and down into the left aspect of your stomach. Repeat that clockwise movement for about 10 minutes, per Michigan Drugs.

Going to get an expert stomach therapeutic massage, or different types of therapeutic massage remedy, can even assist relieve stress-induced constipation, provides Dr. Robbins.

Set up an everyday rest room schedule

Dr. Robbins recommends attempting to poop on the similar time on daily basis. This may also help prepare your physique to have common bowel actions. Most individuals will discover it is best to poop within the morning, particularly after they’ve had a cup of espresso. Over time, your physique will adapt to a schedule.

One other tip? Making an attempt rocking backwards and forwards to poop whereas on the bathroom. The movement will assist you “go” with ease.

Incorporate stress-management strategies

Utterly avoiding stress could really feel unimaginable, however there are methods to scale back its results in your mind and your bowels. Gilman recommends attempting issues like deep respiratory, progressive muscle leisure, or meditation to scale back stress ranges and promote leisure all through your whole physique, together with your GI tract.

“Mindfulness meditation, particularly, may also help individuals domesticate present-moment consciousness,” Gilman provides. “This permits them to create non-judgmental attitudes towards on a regular basis stressors, which can relieve pressure and promote bowel regularity.”

An alternative choice? Cognitive behavioral remedy (CBT), Gilman notes. This particular sort of remedy helps you problem unfavourable thought patterns, and it is really been proven to assist enhance signs of IBS, in keeping with a July 2017 overview in Psychology Analysis and Conduct Administration.

Preserve a journal to trace signs

When you really feel like your constipation is brought on by particular stressors or emotional triggers, holding a journal is usually a useful approach to observe patterns and establish conditions that exacerbate your signs, Gilman says.

From there, you possibly can study coping methods like boundary setting, problem-solving abilities, and leisure strategies to assist cut back stress and bowel points, she provides.

“When you acknowledge constipation is a standard physiological response to emphasize, you could be extra mild with your self.”—Deborah Gilman, PhD, psychologist

Follow self-compassion

One other coping technique is self-compassion. It is true: Treating your self with kindness and style throughout traumatic instances may also help cut back GI flare-ups, Gilman says.

“When you acknowledge that constipation is a standard physiological response to emphasize, you could be extra mild with your self as you navigate the expertise,” she provides.

Incorporate different wholesome way of life adjustments

In response to Gilman, there are a number of behavioral methods you should use to handle stress, together with:

  • Getting sufficient train: The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention (CDC) recommends the typical grownup will get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity train per week. This equals about half-hour per day, which you’ll be able to break up into a number of smaller chunks if that higher fits your schedule.
  • Getting sufficient sleep: The CDC recommends adults get anyplace from seven to 9 hours of sleep per night time.
  • Setting reasonable objectives: As a substitute of specializing in massive objectives, break duties into manageable steps and set reasonable objectives to scale back emotions of overwhelm. Have fun small victories and progress towards your objectives.
  • Looking for social assist: Discovering IBS or anxiousness assist teams on-line or in-person may also help you are feeling much less alone in your expertise and assist empower you to deal with your self.

Strive over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and dietary supplements

If the above adjustments aren’t working for you, Dr. Robbins suggests utilizing OTC remedies like fiber dietary supplements, stool softeners, or gentle laxatives. This may embrace merchandise like Metamucil, Benefiber, Miralax, or Dulcolax.

Simply understand that laxatives ought to be thought-about a short-term resolution. In case your constipation lasts longer than a couple of days, it is best to see your physician to be sure you can maintain utilizing them long run.

Stopping stress-induced constipation

As soon as your bowels effectively sufficient (and understand how they reply to stress), you possibly can anticipate constipation flares forward of time and assist mitigate them, says Dr. Robbins.

Begin by holding a journal (as talked about above) to assist observe any patterns or every day habits. “When you acknowledge the indicators of stress affecting your bowel actions, you possibly can work to stop flares earlier than they begin,” she provides. You’ll be able to implement the identical remedy methods listed above for prevention.

When to see a physician

Whereas constipation could be annoying and even uncomfortable at instances, stress-induced constipation is normally innocent and can start to dissipate as soon as stress is relieved.

That stated, for those who develop any of the next signs alongside constipation, attain out to your physician as quickly as attainable, per Dr. Robbins:

  • Constipation that lasts for a number of weeks regardless of dwelling remedy and way of life adjustments
  • Blood in your stool
  • Extreme ache or discomfort that’s not relieved by having a bowel motion
  • Unexplained weight reduction
  • Sudden adjustments in bowel habits
  • Problem passing stool
  • Bloating and stomach distention that doesn’t enhance
  • Counting on laxatives to have a bowel motion
  • Signs of anemia, comparable to fatigue, shortness or breath, or paleness
  • Household historical past of colon situations like colorectal most cancers or IBD

Your physician may also help rule out or deal with any severe underlying situations that come up.

FAQ

How can I make my bowels transfer sooner?

An amazing pure treatment for constipation that strikes your bowels sooner is prunes (or consuming prune juice), per Johns Hopkins Drugs. Each have sorbitol—a sugar alcohol that does not break down throughout digestion—which may also help you poop sooner, per the Nationwide Library of Drugs.

Taking a delicate OTC laxative can even assist stimulate your bowels to maneuver sooner. Simply examine together with your physician earlier than taking them to ensure they’re best for you.

How lengthy does stress constipation final?

Stress-constipation will final a special period of time for every particular person. Components just like the depth or length of your stress, your coping abilities, and underlying well being situations will play a job, Gilman says.

“For some individuals, constipation could resolve as soon as the stressor is alleviated or managed, however for others, it might persist longer,” she provides. Because of this it is essential to maintain observe of your signs and notice any patterns/habits that could possibly be prolonging your constipation.

Can melancholy and stress trigger constipation?

There is no denying that your psychological well being and intestine well being can play off of one another. This implies it is fairly attainable to have intestine signs like constipation or diarrhea whereas depressed or anxious. Whereas there isn’t any scientific proof that melancholy instantly causes constipation, there’s some anecdotal proof of individuals with melancholy present process adjustments of their bowel habits, per Dr. Robbins.

If you’re coping with depressive signs, attain out to your physician or a therapist for assist. They will counsel remedy choices that would assist relieve bowel points, too.


Effectively+Good articles reference scientific, dependable, current, sturdy research to again up the knowledge we share. You’ll be able to belief us alongside your wellness journey.


  1. Leigh SJ, Uhlig F, Wilmes L, Sanchez-Diaz P, Gheorghe CE, Goodson MS, Kelley-Loughnane N, Hyland NP, Cryan JF, Clarke G. The impression of acute and continual stress on gastrointestinal physiology and performance: a microbiota-gut-brain axis perspective. J Physiol. 2023 Oct;601(20):4491-4538. doi: 10.1113/JP281951. Epub 2023 Sep 27. PMID: 37756251.

  2. Hu, Zhichao et al. “The extent and prevalence of melancholy and anxiousness amongst sufferers with totally different subtypes of irritable bowel syndrome: a community meta-analysis.” BMC gastroenterology vol. 21,1 23. 7 Jan. 2021, doi:10.1186/s12876-020-01593-5

  3. Kinsinger, Sarah W. “Cognitive-behavioral remedy for sufferers with irritable bowel syndrome: present insights.” Psychology analysis and conduct administration vol. 10 231-237. 19 Jul. 2017, doi:10.2147/PRBM.S120817


Can Stress Trigger Constipation? Understanding the Hyperlink

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