Have you ever felt nervous before a public speaking engagement or another stress-inducing event, and then had the sudden urge to go to the bathroom? Believe it or not, all types of stress (both acute and chronic) can cause diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress. So let’s talk about how stress and anxiety can sometimes lead to diarrhea and discuss some simple practices you can implement to manage stress and minimize stress-induced diarrhea.
How Can Stress Cause Diarrhea?
The human body is wired to respond to stress with a cascade of physiological reactions. Your brain can send the signal to the body that you are in a time of stress, which is commonly called your “fight or flight” response. This response sets off a trigger of hormonal releases which can manifest in physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, alertness and a range of other feelings we commonly associate with stress.
Stress can affect all muscles in the body, including cramping of the intestinal muscles, which can often lead to diarrhea, stomach pain or other unpleasant GI symptoms. The enteric nervous system is the nervous system located in the stomach and small intestines. When you become stressed, the brain signals the enteric nervous system to slow movement of the small intestines and stomach, as your body’s resources need to be diverted to more important things.
That’s why in times of stress, your body does not allow you to digest foods properly. Interestingly, while motility slows in the small intestines, it speeds up in the large intestines, likely due to the body trying to rid itself of toxins. This phenomenon can also cause diarrhea.
Stress Management Techniques
The physiological reactions discussed above are entirely natural and, in the case of acute (AKA short-term) stressors, usually easy to manage. The problem arises when you live in a constant state of chronic stress. If you are in a long period of heightened stress and are experiencing diarrhea or other symptoms because of it, implementing stress management techniques can be highly beneficial.
Simple practices like meditating and deep breathing exercises can help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for stimulation of the ‘rest and digest’ response, rather than ‘fight or flight’. Taking an Epsom salt bath before bed can increase your magnesium levels, a mineral that is depleted in times of stress. Simply add 3-4 cups of Epsom salt to a bath and soak for 20 minutes.
Other helpful methods for dealing with heightened stress include exercise, spending time outside, talking with a good friend or finding a therapist or counselor.
What to do When Stress Causes Diarrhea
If stress is causing diarrhea, you may want to consider avoiding irritating foods like overly spicy or greasy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and foods you might be sensitive too, such as dairy or gluten as these can exacerbate the problem. Talking with a medical doctor and/or mental health professional is important if the problem persists to address the underlying issues causing you stress.
Additionally, you can reach for DiaResQ. DiaResQ is not a drug or antibiotic, but a food that provides nutrients and immune factors that work with your body to restore normal intestinal function and quickly relieve diarrhea so you can get back to feeling 100 percent. Don’t let stress or diarrhea stand in the way of doing the things you love.