Your body is a machine, and when one part of it is not fully functioning, other parts of the body will feel the effects. One such case is the effects of stress on the gastrointestinal tract.
Both internal and external stessors can lead to bowel problems among other things. It's also worth mentioning that an unhealthy body can cause acute stress thus leading to health issues. Make sure you get annual physicals and testing for any conditions that may run in your family.
Stress can decrease nutrient absorption, oxygenation to your gut, blood flow to your digestive system, and enzymatic output in your stomach among other things. If you cannot get your stress under control, it can lead to:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Peptic ulcer
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Food allergies
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of inflammatory conditions of the colon and small intestine. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome affects the large intestine. Common symptoms are cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
IBS is a chronic condition and will not go away on its own. You will need to seek long-term treatment for it. A good diet is the best way to combat IBS symptoms.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
Peptic ulcer disease is ulcers in the lining of the stomach. This occurs when there is an imbalance between digestive fluids in the stomach and duodenum.
Common symptoms are a gnawing or burning pain in the middle or upper stomach between meals or at night, bloating, heartburn, nausea or vomiting.
Ulcers generally heal on their own but don't ignore signs that you have one. They need to be properly treated. Otherwise they can potentially lead to other health problems.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach.
Common symptoms include heartburn, belching, or regurgitation.
In most cases GERD can be managed with a good diet and lifestyle changes. However, some people may require medication or surgery. Coffee, alcohol, chocolate and other acidic foods can increase the frequency of these symptoms. Drinking plenty of water and having a higher alkaline diet over acidic helps decrease your symptoms.
Stress can lead to food allergies too. Food allergy reactions occur when your immune system overreacts to a substance you ate, and interprets it as a danger. The immune system will trigger a protective response and attack what you ate.
The immune system can attack other things as well, such as facial hair cells, causing patchy hair growth on a man's face or a women's leg for instance. Stress discombobulates the body and wrecks all kinds of havoc, so it is important to learn to manage your stress.
How to Combat Stress Poop
While some gastric issues are chronic, there are steps you can take when you're suffering from "stress poop" constipation or other stress-induced stomach issues.
Learn Your Food Triggers
You may notice certain foods tend to trigger or worsen your stomach problems when you're stressed. Try to keep a record of these foods so you know to avoid them during stressful situations.
If stress causes diarrhea for you, anti-diarrheal treatment can provide quick and short-term relief. You can buy products like Pepto Bismo from you local drug store.
Probiotics are live bacteria that help your digestive system. They can be found in foods like yogurt and dark chocolates, but a lot of people prefer to take supplements instead.
Probiotics help your gut by making it easier for food to move through your digestive system. Unlike anti-diarrheal medicine, you should take probiotic supplements daily, not just when your stomach starts acting up.
Getting up and being active not only aids digestion, but it has been proven to lower stress levels as well. Try to get in the routine of exercising at least 30 minutes five days a week. You'll feel better physically and emotionally.
Occupy Your Mind
When you're just sitting down agonizing over your gastrointestinal issues, you're only going to make matter worse. Instead, try to do something to keep your mind off your stomach such as watching TV or talking to a friend.
Control Your Breathing
One of the worst things you can do when you're stressed or have anxiety is to start hyperventilating. Take a break and practice slow deep breaths. It'll lower your heart rate, keep you calm and reduce your stress levels.
Here's a great video from Meghan Livingstone with deep breathing techniques for stress.
Up Your Fiber
While some people have diarrhea from stress, others experience constipation. When this happens, eating high fiber foods like beans, lentils, Brussels sprouts and peas can help get you regular again.
There are also some very good fiber supplements that can provide quicker relief, like this one from Kirkland.
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Stress can cause unpleasant side effects like diarrhea, constipation, stomach pains, acid reflux and more serious conditions, so it is important to learn how to manage it.
No one wants to strain to go poop or be doubled over in stomach cramps. Learn techniques to manage stress and keep your colon healthy.
Some doctors say we have two brains; one is in our skull and the other is our gut. A bad homeostasis can lead to short and long-term effects on the functions of the gastrointestinal tract. Stress, which causes strain on your digestive system, can also lead to a shorter lifespan.
To maximize your time on Earth, eat right, exercise, manage your stress and take care of yourself.