Can Stress Cause Constipation? The Mind-Gut Connection
If you suffer from constipation, you’re likely familiar with the physical discomfort it can cause. But did you know that your mental and emotional health may also be influencing your digestive system?
Recent research has shed light on the link between stress and constipation, giving us insight into how our minds affect our digestion. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the mind-gut connection and explore why stress can cause constipation.
What Is the Mind-Gut Connection?
The mind-gut connection is the relationship between the brain and the digestive system, which is more complex than it might seem. It involves the enteric nervous system, the brain's impact on digestion, and the relationship between the two. Through this connection, our mental and emotional states can have a direct effect on our gut health.
The enteric nervous system (ENS) is an important part of the mind-gut connection. Located in the lining of the digestive tract, the ENS is a complex web of neurons that can sense and respond to stimuli within the gut environment. These can include hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin.
The brain also plays an important role in digestion. It can control the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, secrete hormones, and regulate key bodily functions.
These functions can include:
- Food intake
- Waste elimination
- Other bowel habits
The relationship between the brain and the gut is bidirectional, meaning the two can influence each other. Stress, for example, can trigger a variety of digestive issues, while digestive issues can affect our mental states.
How Can Stress Impact Digestion?
The gut-brain axis refers to the two-way communication between the brain and the gut (also known as the “second brain”). When we experience stressful life events or high levels of short-term stress, the brain can send signals to the gut to initiate the fight-or-flight response.
This response causes the release of cortisol, a stress hormone that can redirect blood flow to your vital organs in order to protect your body. Unfortunately, a side effect of this hormone can be diminished bowel function and slow digestion.
This can lead to a variety of uncomfortable digestive issues, including:
- Acid reflux
- Stomach pain
And, of course, stress-related constipation.
What Is Constipation?
In short, constipation is a condition in which a person has difficulty passing stool or does not have bowel movements very often.
Symptoms can vary among individuals, but can include:
- Having fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Stool that is difficult or painful to pass
- Feeling unable to empty the bowels
- Dry, hard, or lumpy stool
Those with chronic constipation may also experience bloating, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal issues.
How Can You Manage Feelings of Stress and Constipation?
While constipation can result from many factors, stress can slow down or even temporarily halt digestion — which is why it’s often viewed as a major culprit behind gut problems. Given this information, managing stress may be able to soothe symptoms of digestive upset.
Here are some stress management tips to keep in mind:
- Take time for yourself. Make sure to set aside some “me” time each day and find activities that help you relax, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or journaling.
- Get moving. Exercise can help soothe tension, so try to make time for physical activity each day. You don't have to run a marathon, but an hour of light exercise a day may help support your digestion.
- Get enough rest. Sleep can help the body recover and restore itself, so make sure to get adequate rest each night (seven to nine hours is recommended). Can't sleep? Try Sleeping Beauty, our blend of dreamy ingredients that help you relax and fall into a restful sleep.*
- Try meditation and mindfulness. Meditation can help calm a racing mind, while mindfulness can help you stay in the present moment and manage difficult thoughts or feelings.
- Eat right. Making healthy dietary changes and staying hydrated can help keep the digestive system running smoothly. Make sure to include plenty of fiber-rich foods in your diet, such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Pro Tip: Struggling to reach your daily fiber target? Check out Sparkle Fiber — a super greens blend that supports normal detoxification for immunity, digestion, and overall health.*
- Try a laxative. If you're having trouble getting things moving, don't be afraid to ask your doctor about trying a laxative. Your doctor can recommend the right one for you and help you find the right dosage.
- Take a probiotic. Probiotics can support your gut microbiota to help keep the digestive system running smoothly — and as a bonus, they may also help minimize feelings of stress. You can get them via our Gut Feelings Probiotics (a blend of probiotics that helps support healthy gut function, digestion, and immunity*) or from foods like yogurt and kefir.
- Cut down on caffeine. Caffeine can have a dehydrating effect on the body, which can lead to constipation. If possible, try to limit your caffeine intake and opt for other beverages like herbal teas or coconut water.
- Don't stress about it. Stress can make constipation worse, so try to stay relaxed and take things one step at a time.
- Talk to your doctor. If your constipation persists despite trying these tips and making lifestyle changes, it may be time to talk to your primary healthcare doctor. Your doctor can help you find any underlying causes or health conditions and provide treatment options that are right for you.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, they may refer you to a gastroenterology clinic.
The Bottom Line
The mind-gut connection is a fascinating relationship that indicates there’s a strong link between our mental health and digestive health. So, if you suffer from constipation, it may be worth exploring methods to help manage your stress levels, such as meditation or exercise, in order to help facilitate healthy digestion.
Here at Love Wellness, we create natural solutions for natural problems. Why? Because we experience them, too. Whether you’re struggling with an unhappy gut or simply searching for ways to minimize feelings of stress, you can always count on us to help you feel your best.
How is stress linked with constipation? | Stress
The Enteric Nervous System - Neuroscience | NCBI Bookshelf
Constipation - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
Enteric Nervous System - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics
Probiotic supplements for relieving stress in healthy participants | PMC
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