Diarrhea due to stress is a nasty ailment that can cause a lot of discomfort.
It occurs during busy or threatening situations.
You should do everything you can to prevent and fix this.
That is why in this article you will learn 5 tips to prevent and solve abdominal pain and diarrhea due to stress.
What to do against diarrhea due to stress?
Running to the bathroom just before an important meeting is no fun.
And boiling guts on a first date is also something you’d rather not experience.
In acute stress, the relief is great when you get out of the smallest room. There is a good chance that the complaints will disappear after a visit to the toilet.
If you regularly suffer from this, you probably know how annoying diarrhea can be due to stress.
Doctors often prescribe antidiarrhoeal drugs for diarrhea. The advantage of these drugs is that they do indeed help you get through the day without having to go to the toilet regularly.
The big disadvantage is that these do not address the cause of your diarrhea.
Why do you get diarrhea due to stress?
Diarrhea due to stress is nothing new. Scientists have been studying the link between diarrhea and stress for decades.
One of the most famous studies on the link between diarrhea and stress was conducted in the 1940s. During this study, doctors used special instruments to measure how much the colon contracted during stressful situations.
The study found that stressful situations can indeed lead to intestinal cramps and diarrhea.
At that time it was not possible to fully explain scientifically how this came about with the limited knowledge that scientists had at the time.
Another way to measure the stress response in the gut was to tell the subjects that they were suffering from colon cancer. Not ethical at all, of course. The subjects were later told that this was not the case.
Fortunately, advances in research and technology have allowed doctors to determine with greater accuracy how the brain affects the gut.
What do anxiety and stress do to our gut?
Our brain communicates with all our organs through a network of nerves. This network is called the central nervous system.
Researchers have discovered that our gastrointestinal tract actually has its own nervous system. This is called the enteric nervous system.
The enteric nervous system allows the gastrointestinal tract to perform certain functions autonomously, such as digesting food.
That is why our gastrointestinal system is often referred to as our second brain.
But although the gastrointestinal tract can work completely independently, it always remains in contact with the brain. This on the basis of the ‘brain-gut axis’.
Communication between our gastrointestinal system and our brain is established via special chemical messengers including dopamine and serotonin. These substances are also called ‘happy hormones’‘.
You have probably noticed: when you eat something when you are hungry, it makes you happier.
Like other nervous systems in our body, the enteric nervous system also responds to stress hormones that the body releases under the influence of stress.
The stress hormone par excellence – cortisol – has a lot of negative influences on your gastrointestinal system.
What does stress do to your stomach?
Abdominal pain due to stress is more common. Not everyone experiences the same complaints and not everyone experiences them to the same extent.
But what exactly does stress do to your stomach and why does stress give you stomachaches?
The supply of energy to your gastrointestinal system decreases
When your body feels that it is in danger, it does everything it can to survive.
All energy goes to the organs and body parts that can protect your body.
Your muscles tense, your blood pressure rises, your heart beats faster, etc… The body prepares to ‘fight’ or ‘flight’.
Your gastrointestinal tract plays only a very small role in surviving acute danger.
After an evening at the pub, stop at a hamburger stand. While enjoying a hamburger you stroll home in the dark. Suddenly you hear footsteps. You turn around and see someone running towards you with a butcher knife. What gives you the greatest chance of survival? Take a quick bite of your burger to satisfy your hunger or run for your life?
Exactly: you make a run for it. To run fast enough, the muscles in your legs need a lot of energy. Your body knows that and it sends all the energy to your muscles. Your digestion suddenly becomes less important.
Sudden stomach cramps
You probably don’t immediately realize it, but your gastrointestinal tract is largely made up of smooth muscle tissue.
You learned earlier that the tension in your muscles increases under the influence of cortisol. If the muscle tissue of your gastrointestinal system remains tense, the passage of the contents of your small intestine is too slow. This allows harmful bacteria to thrive, which can result in diarrhea.
But there is also another way stress hormones affect the muscles in your abdomen.
Muscle contractions around your small intestine push food to your large intestine. If the muscles around your small intestine are too tense, they can’t contract properly. This can also cause cramps and diarrhea due to stress.
The balance of the gut bacteria is disturbed
Recent studies have shown that stress can affect our gut bacteria to the same extent as a high-fat diet.
Chronic stress can change the composition of your gut flora. This is because, under the influence of stress hormones, certain good bacterial species decrease in number and harmful bacterial species increase.
Dr. Erika Ebbel Angle explains very clearly how important microbiome are in your gut in the video below:
You probably know it: you come home after a busy working day and you no longer feel like cooking extensive and healthy. A warm meal in the microwave is so much easier.
Healthy eating is one of the most important conditions for a healthy intestinal flora. You already learned that if you followed the video professor Eric Claassen carefully.
Your gastrointestinal system ignites more easily
These pathogens can then more easily cause inflammation throughout your body, including your stomach and intestines. These inflammations can lead to diarrhea.
If these inflammations persist for a long time, the permeability of your intestines can even be affected.
This makes it easier for bacteria and undigested food to enter your bloodstream. Because your immune system is already weakened, you get inflammation and diarrhea more easily.
This also means that you are no longer getting enough nutrients. And this brings us straight to the next question.
Is abdominal pain and diarrhea due to stress dangerous?
The answer to this question is actually quite simple: yes, abdominal pain and diarrhea due to stress can be dangerous.
Persistent diarrhea from stress can cause dehydration. Dehydration that is not noticed in time can even be life-threatening.
Symptoms to watch out for are:
Another problem is that you will avoid social situations very often if you often suffer from diarrhea due to stress.
Not everywhere is a toilet close by and having to run to the toilet every so often is not pleasant when you are in company.
5 useful tips for diarrhea due to stress
Fortunately, you can do something about it! That is why below you will find 5 tips for what to do in case of diarrhea due to stress.
In the short term, this can prevent you from experiencing the discomfort of diarrhea any longer and your health from deteriorating even more.
Tip 1: Limit alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine
Smokers often reach for a cigarette when they are under stress. It’s no secret that smoking in itself carries its own risks.
And a cup of strong coffee immediately makes that tired feeling disappear due to stress.
Still, these ‘tools’ for better coping with stress are not a good idea at all. In the long run, these harm your gastrointestinal system even more.
Smokers, on the other hand, have a greater chance of developing infections in the stomach or small intestine.
Scientific research confirms that smoking also leads to higher cortisol levels.
Tip 2: Adjust your diet
If you often suffer from diarrhea due to stress, it is important to adjust your diet.
There are certain foods that help normalize your digestion.
It is best to eat the so-called BRAT diet.
BRAT stands for:
These foods are soft so they don’t strain the digestive system. They are also binding, so they help hold the stool.
There are also nutrients that you should avoid if you have diarrhea due to stress:
You should definitely also consider probiotics if you often suffer from diarrhea due to stress. These ensure an increase of beneficial bacteria in your intestines.
Tip 3: Make sure your body does not dry out
Earlier in this article I mentioned that stress diarrhea can cause dehydration.
With diarrhea due to stress, it is very important that your body remains hydrated!
If you are not much of a water drinker, herbal tea can offer a solution. Mint and chamomile are known for their calming properties, both for body and mind.
Soup or broth will also keep you hydrated. Moreover, these strengthen you if you feel a bit weak due to diarrhea.
It is important that you avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and even sugary fruit juices.
Tip 4: Use your free time for relaxation
Relaxation has a positive effect on your stress level. But your digestion also benefits.
Do what makes you most relaxed. This can be a walk in nature, sitting on the couch watching your favorite series, listening to music or reading a book.
Yoga isn’t just relaxing, by the way. Some yoga poses also support your digestion.
Yoga pose 1: the supportive shoulder stand
Lie down on a mat.
Keep your hands at your hips and raise your legs straight up.
To make it more comfortable, feel free to use a folded towel under your shoulders and the top of your back.
Yoga pose 2: the Child’s pose
Get on your hands and knees on a mat.
Spread your knees and keep the tops of your feet on the floor.
Then bring your stomach between your thighs and forehead toward the floor.
In the center of your forehead, there is an energy point that supports a resting and digestive response. It is important to make contact with the ground during the exercise.
Tip 5: Identify the source of stress
There are many medicines to relieve the signs and symptoms of diarrhea caused by stress. †
Diarrhea inhibitors such as loperamide can indeed prevent you from running from one toilet to another. The big problem, however, is that drugs do not address the cause of stress diarrhea.
If you stop taking these drugs and don’t adjust your lifestyle, stress diarrhea will reappear.
The most important thing to treat stress-induced diarrhea is to address the underlying cause. So you will have to find a way to go through life with less stress.
I realize all too well that this doesn’t sound easy. That’s why I want to help you with this.
First of all, I invite you to find out to what extent you are sensitive to stress. You can do this using the free ‘Stress test’ below.
This allows you to map out the seriousness of your complaints and that is already a big step towards a life with less stress.