Can Stress Cause Constipation?

When you’re nervous, it usually does something to your stomach. That’s because your digestive and nervous systems are connected. So, can stress cause constipation? The answer is yes, it does.

The link between the two systems is crucial for all bodily functions to work. However, it also means that anxiety and stress may lead to digestive issues, such as constipation, stomach pain, upset tummy, or diarrhea. And it works both ways because problems with your gut may lead to stress. If not addressed right away, this may trigger a vicious cycle of stress triggering digestive issues and vice versa.

How can stress cause constipation and related issues?

can stress cause constipation
How can stress cause constipation?

Constipation symptoms vary, but the most common signs include infrequent bowel movements within the week, dry and hard poo, straining in the toilet, and pain when passing the bowels.

Constipation is often the result of several factors, one of which is stress. When stress starts to manifest in physical symptoms, these are referred to as somatic symptoms.

Like other bodily functions, bowel movements are also controlled by the nervous system. This is the system consisting of nerves that link major organs of the body to the brain. It is also divided into two systems – the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system kicks in in a fight or flight situation, emergencies, and anxiety-inducing incidents.

On the other hand, the parasympathetic nervous system allows the body to relax and go back to its natural state after its fight-or-flight response. It is also responsible for communicating the movement in the digestive system to the enteric nervous system.

The enteric nervous system plays a crucial role in answering the question, “how can stress cause constipation?” This particular system releases serotonin, which helps move food along the large intestine as it stimulates the constriction of the colon’s smooth muscles. 

For a better understanding of the answer to the question “why can stress cause constipation?” and what role the nervous system plays in this relationship, here’s what happens to your body when you are anxious:

  • When you’re stressed, your body produces cortisol, serotonin, and adrenaline. With the increase in serotonin comes the stomach spasms. The more spasms, the higher the risk of diarrhea. If the spasms continue in one part of your colon, it could lead to constipation. So if you’ve asked yourself, “can stress cause constipation?” it does.
  • Stressful situations trigger the body to produce epinephrine, which helps the body cope with its fight-or-flight response. Instead of letting the blood flow to the intestines, the said hormone redirects it to the lungs, heart, and brain. In effect, this diversion slows down any bowel movement, leading to constipation.
  • Stress also triggers the release of corticotropin-releasing factor, or CRF, in the intestines. It can slow down intestinal movement that could later develop into an inflammation.
  • Stress may cause an imbalance in gut bacteria. More research needs to be done, but there is a common belief that stress reduces the presence of good bacteria in the gut, negatively affecting digestion.
  • Stress leads to inflammation in the intestines as they become permeable. As a result, this makes your abdominal area feel full as the intestines become inflamed, leaving you with an uncomfortable feeling common among those who have dealt with constipation.

The neurons control your intestines’ ability to digest food. However, stress can cause neurons to stop, disrupting the natural digestive process. If this happens without relieving your stress for a long time, it can become chronic constipation and even inflammation in the tummy.

How to treat stress-related constipation

can stress cause constipation
Can stress cause constipation? How to treat it

Now, you have the affirmative answer to “can stress cause constipation?” The next step is to figure out how to treat the condition, which includes the following tips:

  • Eat more fiber-rich foods or take a fiber supplement.
  • Hydrate yourself, although you have to cut down on coffee, tea, and other diuretic beverages.
  • Stay active as much as possible to encourage better movement in the intestines.
  • Limit your intake of sugar-rich foods, fatty foods, cigarettes, and alcohol because these pose a high risk of developing constipation.
  • Use laxatives, prescription drugs, or stool softeners. However, these shouldn’t be used for too long to stop the body from being dependent on these medications.
  • Consult a doctor to get professional therapy and find the source of the stress to address it.
  • Engage in yoga, reading a book, meditation, or listening to music.

If you suffer from chronic constipation due to stress, trying the tips mentioned above might help. It might be a yes to the question “can stress cause constipation?” but you can always manage the condition and prevent it from getting worse. You can change your lifestyle and try to minimize the triggers of stress in your life so you can finally prevent stress-related constipation.

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