Can Stress Cause Diarrhea? Effective Management, Treatment, and Prevention
Have you ever been anxious or maybe overly stressed about a big event that's coming up and your tummy is just kind of feeling a little bit off?
And the only thing really getting in the way is that you end up in the bathroom constantly. And so with an irritable tummy, you're ending up with a lot of diarrhea.
I have many clients who experience this and while some of them have made the connection that maybe their anxiety or their stress is creating a little bit of an upset stomach, others might be thinking about what food I eat.
And so today we want to discuss, "Can Stress cause diarrhea?"
Now of course, stress is part of our life and it's hard to get away get away from those feelings sometimes when we lead busy lives. And we do have big events in our life coming up and we know that stress causes a lot of detrimental effects on our body, but it also has a big connection to how our gut feels.
And so if you have kind of a sensitive stomach and you have a big stressful event coming up, you might be experiencing even bloating or extra gas, or maybe it is diarrhea for you.
So today I want to explore the issue of stress and our digestive system and specifically how that stress can cause diarrhea.
My name is Marcie Vaske. I'm a functional medicine nutritionist with Oswald Digestive Clinic. So I do see a lot of clients that struggle with this symptom that I'm going to discuss today, as well as constipation or bloating or gas or even acid reflux.
So if this resonates with you or maybe someone you know, you can easily make an initial appointment with me or our other dietitian Katie.
But if you kind of like to do things on your own or just learn some more information about gut health, we have a great FREE GUIDE, which is "Five Ways to Improve your Gut Health."
So take a look at those things below, and see what resonates best for you. In the meantime, I want you to read the rest of the blog and see if you are struggling with some of these symptoms of stress and digestive upset.
Unveiling the Question: Can Stress Cause Diarrhea?
So when we're under stress, our body releases hormones and one is cortisol, which has the effect of disrupting our digestive system and causing a variety of symptoms including diarrhea. Now, stress can also cause a disruption in our microbiome, setting the stage for more opportunistic bacteria, which can cause long-term diarrhea or other stomach issues.
Now, one stressful event isn't going to totally ruin or disrupt your microbiome, but if you have long chronic stress going on, this is where the problem really lies.
So stress-induced digestive issues really present themselves in a variety of ways. So maybe you are stressed and you're not experiencing diarrhea, but you are experiencing things like abdominal pain or gas or extra cramping or bloating. These are things that are going to lead to diarrhea possibly, or some people get really constipated.
Now of course, if you are the one that kind of has more of those looser stools and when you get a little bit extra anxious or more stress coming on, just know that it's temporary. And once the stress goes away, usually that diarrhea does cease as well.
Now you might be wondering, okay, well why is that happening to me?
And stress can really impact the mechanisms of our digestive system. And one way that it does that is through, as I mentioned earlier, those stress hormones.
Now our stress hormone cortisol actually speeds up the digestive system leading to those looser stools. And also stress can disrupt our electrolytes. And so the absorption of water and our minerals can also cause those loose stools.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, if you have that chronic stress going on, that's where you might lead to more extensive issues. But with chronic stress, we also have a decrease in our immune system in our intestinal tract, which then can set the stage or lead to more infections and also imbalanced microbiome, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea.
Effective Strategies: Managing Stress-Induced Diarrhea
So how can you manage this stress-induced diarrhea a little bit better? And of course, we're always talking about just reducing stress in your life in general.
Box breathing - But a few techniques like doing some breathing, so some box breathing or just taking deep breaths, taking time, maybe one or two minutes just to sit there and kind of deep breathing can calm the vagus nerve, which then calms that brain-gut access.
Meditation - taking time to maybe do some meditation. So maybe you start your day out with a little five or 10-minute meditation, especially on those really stressful days or when you do have something really important going on.
Walk or workout in the morning - another way to reduce stress is by daily activity. And so it could be something as simple as going for a walk in the morning or doing a workout that really reduces that stress.
Diet - being a nutritionist, I can't bring up the fact that you need to eat a healthy diet that's just going to support your body in general. And also how to reduce stress. So keeping a healthy diet of good proteins or enough protein, some healthy carbohydrates as well as healthy fats can really help with that stress in your life because your blood sugar will stay more stable.
Avoid greasy foods - if you have more anxiety going on, protein is wonderful in helping to reduce anxiety. And of course, you want to take out some of those trigger foods. Things like greasy or heavy foods that just kind of make you feel tired after you eat them. Or even taking out extra caffeine and alcohol. Both can contribute to increased anxiety, which then only puts more stress on you and your gut.
Stay well-hydrated - you want to make sure that you're getting enough water. Hydrating is so key to keeping your whole body happy, right? And so, the gold standard is consuming half your body weight in ounces.
And if you're not quite there yet, that's okay. At least getting 64 ounces of water a day is going to be great because that's just going to nourish and keep your brain happier and also just keep all of your organs in a better state. When we're hydrated, we feel more calm.
Get Enough Sleep - another way that you can kind of help serve yourself in reducing stress or what's going to be best is of course getting enough sleep. And if we have stressful events coming up, I know when I'm like that it's hard for me to get a really good night's sleep, My mind keeps going sometimes or I'm just more restless when I'm sleeping and I feel more anxious about something coming up.
But if you can do some of that, maybe meditation before you go to bed or even just doing some breathing before you go to bed can put you into a better state so that you can fall off to sleep better and have a deeper sleep.
And all the things I mentioned before that is as far as like foods and staying hydrated and taking out caffeine and alcohol, those are all going to be things that are going to help you sleep deeper and better even when you have, you have more stress going on in your life.
Now, of course, occasional stress-related diarrhea can be normal and may have happened to many of us. But if you feel that your digestive system is just kind of not working on all cylinders, that's when we need to do a little bit more investigative work and find out what is really the root cause of your diarrhea.
And so working with myself or the other dietitian at the clinic, Katie, we can help you find that root cause and get you feeling the best you can.
Now, just to kind of sum off, what you heard me say today is that yes, stress can definitely cause diarrhea and if it's just a short bout temporary, no big deal, life goes on, right?
But again, if it is more chronic to you, there might be that underlying condition and it's really important to understand what it is. Is it just a short-term issue or is it a long-term issue so that you can feel your best and know how to manage those symptoms?
So working with the clinic might help you find some of those answers for yourself and get you feeling your very best.
If you'd like to explore any of this information further or obtain an individualized nutrition plan, you can schedule an initial appointment at our clinic. We also take insurance and some of our clients get full coverage, which is great.
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