Stress and Digestion  

IBS and Stress

While it is often stated that stress plays a major role in IBS, rarely is there an accompanying explanation as to how this actually happens.  We have taken this excellent article from

What Happens to Digestion Under Stress?

When stressed, the body reacts automatically by engaging the so-called fight- or-flight response. This response is the body’s way of getting ready to take action. Your body is like a fire department. When a fire alarm goes off, the fire department responds as quickly as possible. The fire department treats all alarms as serious, regardless of whether the alarm is false or real. The stress response is one of the body’s alarm systems. When stress is perceived, the body prepares for action whether there is a need for action (for example, you run to get away from an attacking dog that wanders into your backyard while you are barbecuing) or not (for example, the way you feel when you think someone has insulted you but he or she clarifies that he or she was actually talking about someone else - you still feel the insult).

To prepare you for action, several things happen in your body. Your muscles tighten, your heart rate and breathing speed up, and stress hormones (for example, adrenaline) are released. Each of these normal reactions can affect your gut. Muscle tension can alter the normal rhythms of your bowel, leading to altered bowel habits, such as constipation and diarrhea, or to heartburn. One way to think about your gut is to imagine an orchestra.



Symptoms Of Stress
Stress & Digestion

When all the instruments are working properly and playing together (the horns come in when they are supposed to, the drum stops at the right moment), beautiful music results. If, however, the timing is thrown off (the horns come in when the drums are supposed to, not all the violins play at the same time), you have nothing but painful, irritating noise. This is how the gut works as well. That is why you can have no disease (all the instruments are in good working order) but very intense symptoms that interfere with your ability to function and cope (the orchestra makes nothing but painful noise).

Since stress has such a strong effect on the body, many people with irritable bowel need to learn to manage and reduce stress. This is true both for positive stresses (the challenge of a new job or anxiously awaiting your wedding day) and negative stresses (losing your job or worrying about finances). Managing stress differs depending on the type and causes of stress. In this category, we will talk about two types of stress. First, there are the stresses that interfere with normal bowel functioning and directly result in bowel symptoms (direct stress effect). Stress will directly upset the gut for some people.

Also, your pattern of coping with stress can disrupt normal gut functioning if you cope by overeating or drinking excess coffee or alcohol, or if your sleep is interrupted. Second, there are the stresses that result from having bowel symptoms (indirect stress effects). The best example of this type of stress is the fear of incontinence that is common among those with diarrhea-prone irritable bowel. If you are one of these people, you may find yourself orienting to all the restrooms in the areas that you travel. Being in a new place can be stressful simply because you do not know where there is a restroom.

“Stress is the trash of modern life-we all generate it but if you don't dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your life.”

Danzae Pace