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Home arrow Health arrow Gut Health arrow Can Stress Cause Constipation? 5 Lifestyle Tips Included

Can Stress Cause Constipation? 5 Lifestyle Tips Included

Written by Dennis Njoroge
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: July 18, 2023
8 min read 1112 Views 0 Comments
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Stress might affect your gut muscles and make your stomach feel tense. Can it lead to constipation as well?

Can stress cause constipation

Constipation is common in kids and adults and occurs when stool moves too slowly in the digestive tract. There are various causes of constipation, such as bowel obstruction. However, can stress cause constipation?

The brain and the digestive tract are in constant communication, and you may sometimes feel gut-wrenching discomfort when anxious.

This article discusses the relationship between the nervous and digestive systems, how stress can cause constipation, and preventive measures.

Can Stress Cause Constipation?

Stress, emotions, and thoughts can negatively affect your gastrointestinal tract, leading to stress-related constipation. Vice versa is also true, as constipation, vomiting, and diarrhea can trigger a stress cycle.

Does stress induce bowel dysfunction? Studies in internal medicine show psychological stress leads to abdominal pain, chest pain, and affects stress hormones and gut microbiota composition causing constipation.

Stress-induced constipation can lead to inflammatory bowel disease characterized by diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Researchers also showed that people who have experienced stress or severe illness are likely to report constipation.

The sympathetic nervous system affects most bodily functions connecting the brain to major organs. It prepares the body for fight or flight responses and high anxiety situations.

The digestive system is lined by neurons that signal your intestines to digest food after you eat. However, intestinal movement slows down when stressed, bringing digestion to a crawl and leading to constipation.

Severe stress and psychological disorders can make constipation worse. Stress-related constipation leads to inflammation, which can further aggravate gastrointestinal symptoms.

Does Anxiety Cause Constipation?

Anxiety or other psychiatric disorders may also cause constipation since they affect your stress response. The enteric nervous system contains neurons, which use chemical and hormonal neurotransmitters to send signals between the brain and the rest of the nervous system.

Most of the body’s hormone serotonin is manufactured in the enteric nervous system. Serotonin is a hormone that helps the constriction of smooth muscles during digestion.

When you are overly anxious, the brain releases stress hormones like serotonin, adrenaline, and cortisol, which flood your gastrointestinal tract, directly affecting bodily processes.

If the spasms occur only in one area of the colon, digestion may halt, leading to constipation, and if they occur throughout the entire colon, they may lead to chronic diarrhea.

During stressful life events, the body’s adrenal glands release a hormone called epinephrine, responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. This makes the body divert blood flow from the gut to vital organs such as the heart, brain, and lungs.

If you struggle with frequent constipation caused by stress, it is best to see a doctor to help find solutions for both the stress and constipation.

Can IBS Or Other Conditions Increase Anxiety?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other conditions may increase anxiety since the mind and gut are interconnected in a two-way signaling system known as the gut-brain axis.

Some IBS symptoms include difficulty passing stool, gastrointestinal disorders, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation.

A poorly functioning gut is linked to several mental health problems like anxiety. The brain depends on some chemicals and hormones manufactured in the gut. For instance, 90% of serotonin which controls mood and anxiety, is made in the gut.

Too high or too low serotonin levels can precipitate mental health problems. People with IBS may be more sensitive to emotional troubles.

However, though the brain and gut are intertwined, not all people with IBS have anxiety and vice versa.

Can Food Make Your Anxiety Worse?

For some people, certain foods may lead to bad physical reactions, which may worsen irritability, mood shifts, or anxiety.

Eating highly processed foods, high-fat dairy, pastries, and candy makes you likely to experience anxiety. Most processed foods contain high amounts of sodium, raising blood pressure and increasing the heart’s workload, which causes the body to release adrenaline and anxiety.

Some food additives such as aspartame are also linked to mood changes, anxiety, and depression. Most cans and plastic containers used for packaging food are lined with Bisphenol A, a chemical linked to mood and blood pressure changes.

Eating a healthy and balanced diet is important for good mental and physical health.

How To Get Rid Of Stress Constipation? 5 Easy Ways To Try At Home

Constipation affects 20% of the adult population in the U.S., resulting in at least 8 million doctor visits annually. The causes of constipation vary, and sometimes, it is the symptom of an underlying issue.

It can result from hormonal changes, psychological stress, cancers, spinal injuries, cancers, or dehydration. Below are some home remedies to relieve stress-related constipation.

#1 Fiber supplements

There are a number of safe and effective fiber supplements on the market that will clean your body, treat constipation, improve detoxification, and help with digestive issues.

These supplements contain dietary fiber, such as psyllium husk, that helps soften your stool allowing it to pass more easily. Dietary fiber also allows for the growth of healthy gut bacteria, thus giving one gentle constipation relief.

If you have a watery stool, fiber helps to bulk it up. Fiber helps in blood sugar management and reduces cholesterol levels.

After consuming fiber supplements, you will experience a bowel movement within 24 to 72 hours, and you can also expect to feel lightness in your gut and for bloating to reduce. Additional benefits entail reduced sugar cravings, increased energy levels, improved sleep, and healthier skin.

#2 Drink lots of water

Dehydration is among the leading causes of constipation. When you do not have adequate water in your colon, the large intestines absorb water from your food waste, making stool difficult to pass.

Drinking plenty of water is also associated with increased diversity of normal healthy bacteria. A recent study showed that people who drink more water had more healthy gut bacteria and less bacteria that cause gastrointestinal infections.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more water than you are consuming. Too little water during intense exercises such as running, hot weather, or daily activities can lose your stored water.

Stress leads to increased intestinal permeability and dehydration and allows inflammatory compounds into the gut, which can cause abdominal fullness and inflammatory bowel disease.

Experts suggest that men drink at least 125 ounces of water daily while women should drink at least 91 ounces daily. This also accounts for the water you get from your food. You get at least 20% of the water from your diet.

Your water consumption depends on factors such as your diet, the temperatures of the season, your levels of physical activity, physical activity levels, and overall health. Pregnant and breastfeeding women might also need to drink more water to stay hydrated.

Drinking water is among the standard constipation treatments as it allows food to move freely through the gut. Besides alleviating constipation, drinking water also helps you lose weight, and water intake affects your brain’s function and energy levels.

#3 Start exercising

Exercise helps alleviate constipation by minimizing the time it takes food to move through the gut. Physical activity encourages motion and accelerates the time it takes for food to move through the gut reducing the amount of water absorbed from the digestive system.

Aerobic exercises also speed up your breathing and heart rate. It stimulates contractions and squeezes muscles in the intestines, helping to move out stool more quickly.

It is advisable to wait an hour after a big meal before strenuous physical exercises. After eating, there is increased blood flow to the stomach and intestines to help the body in digestion. If you start exercising immediately after eating, the body diverts blood flow from the gut to the muscles.

The strength of contractions in the digestive system depends on the amount of blood in the gut. Less blood in the gut means weaker contractions, making food move sluggishly, leading to constipation, gas, and bloating.

Experts suggest that one should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week for optimal health.

It is best to allow your body some rest before digesting a big meal. The best exercises for gentle constipation relief are running, jogging, swimming, hula hooping, and yoga.

#4 Get enough sleep

There is a strong relationship between gastrointestinal health and sleep. If you have disturbed sleep, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which causes increased stress and chronic illnesses.

Our bodies follow a sleep-wake cycle and sleep hugely impacts the microbes in the gut. Anything that affects your sleep cycle impacts your intestinal cells and gut microbes. This significantly affects processes like digestion and excretion.

Stress causes physical symptoms, known as somatic symptoms, whereby the body is tired or in pain. These symptoms are characterized by emotional stress and disturbed bowel functions.

There is also a correlation between sleep disorders and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies show that lack of sleep produces inflammatory compounds such as cytokines that lead to IBS.

The signals and control of hormones from the brain that affect sleep patterns also affect bowel movements that regulate your sleep. Poor sleep patterns also affect your muscles leading to abnormal rectal functioning responsible for some types of constipation.

Abnormal rectal functioning is whereby your gut expands to hold more wastes instead of excreting normally. Oversleeping can also disrupt your gut by slowing digestion because of inactivity.

Getting adequate sleep helps your gut move in the right direction.

#5 Consider getting help from professionals

If constipation persists, it is best to get help from healthcare professionals. Doctors can help you choose prescription medications or over-the-counter laxatives effective for treating constipation.

Some effective treatments include stool softeners, stimulant laxatives, and bulking agents. Doctors can also advise on dietary and lifestyle changes you need to implement to alleviate occasional constipation.

If traditional medication doesn’t help, doctors may recommend medication to draw water out of your intestines. Sometimes chronic constipation may arise from intestinal blockage, needing corrective surgery.

It is best to consult with your doctor when symptoms persist.

A Word from MD

Constipation occurs when irregular bowel movements and stool become very difficult to pass. Various causes of constipation include dehydration, psychological stress, muscle problems, injuries, and cancers.

Chronic stress, mental health conditions, and poor diet also lead to constipation. Constipation symptoms vary among individuals, including fewer than three bowel movements a week, lumpy stool bowel movements, alteration in bowel habits, stomach pain, or stool that’s hard to pass.

Your age, activity levels, dietary habits, and health status affect the bowel movements you have in a day. There is no set amount of bowel movements that you should have, but less than three a week might be a symptom of an underlying condition.

If you have occasional constipation, your doctor might recommend over-the-counter medication. However, chronic constipation might need other treatments, such as laxatives or biofeedback therapy, to retrain colon muscles to produce regular bowel movements.

Daily stress relieving activities and dietary changes like incorporating apple juice in your meals also help relieve constipation.

Sometimes chronic constipation may be due to intestinal blockage or rectal prolapse, which may need surgery to remove some part of the colon.

If your constipation has other symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and spasms, it is best to see a medical doctor immediately.


Whether chronic or temporary, constipation is an unpleasant occurrence. There is a strong relationship between constipation and psychiatric disorders.

Stress and anxiety can exacerbate constipation. Fortunately, home remedies such as over-the-counter medications, exercise, and healthy lifestyle changes can help alleviate constipation.Before adopting a new exercise regimen, dietary changes, or medication to alleviate occasional constipation, it is best to consult your doctor for the best results.

Written by Dennis Njoroge
Dennis is a seasoned writer who focuses on writing health and wellness articles. His career goal is to educate people on how to reprogram their lives by breaking free from unhealthy eating habits and fostering new sustainable habits. Dennis tries to give easy-to-follow advice based on scientific research. He strongly believes that regardless of age, fitness level, a person can always learn something new and reach their health goals if they have a positive mindset.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Dennis Njoroge
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: July 18, 2023
8 min read 1112 Views 0 Comments

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