Anxiety is a common symptom of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Here, Ali answers all your questions about how these two conditions are related, what is happening in your body and the steps you can take to tackle the problem.
Anxiety is a mental state of extreme apprehension and worry, which may lead to physical effects on our body. Feeling anxious is normal in certain situations. However, when it starts occurring on a more frequent basis, anxiety can become a health issue.
Anxiety can produce physical effects in the body. These include palpitations, sweating, dizziness, an upset stomach and diarrhoea. As experiencing anxiety may be a consequence of IBS, the shared symptoms as mentioned above may become more prominent.
Recurrent, unpredictable and unpleasant digestive issues, happening at inconvenient times, can lead to anxiety. Unfortunately IBS can result in a vicious cycle whereby the presence of our persistent digestive issues cause anxiety and this anxiety can then result in the onset of more punishing physical symptoms.
In this page, we focus on how IBS can cause anxiety. If you think your feelings of anxiety are causing IBS, please follow our link to read about psychological factors and IBS.
In the body there is a strong gut-brain connection. The gut is special in that it has its own nervous system known as the enteric nervous system (ENS). The ENS communicates efficiently with our brain. If our gut is unhappy or irritated it will affect the signals being sent to our brain and is even thought to affect our mood.
Managing your IBS may be the key to helping with the anxiety and breaking this cycle. Find out more at our treating IBS page.
A few simple lifestyle changes may help to address anxiety linked with IBS.
Relax: Nowadays our busy lifestyles can give rise to more instances of anxiety and panic attacks. Take time out to focus on yourself, do things you enjoy and take your mind off the stresses of modern life. Whether it’s simply going for a walk, reading a good book or a specific technique such as yoga or meditation, relaxing our minds will have a positive effect on feelings of anxiousness
Cut out caffeine: Caffeine releases adrenaline in the body, which puts our bodies into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This state triggers pronounced physical responses such as sweating and heart palpitations, the nasty symptoms associated with anxiety we are trying to avoid! So swap your tea, coffee and soft drinks and try a new coffee substitute or a soothing herbal tea to avoid triggering an anxiety attack. Not to mention, caffeine may actually be a trigger for IBS itself - have a read of our IBS diet section to learn more
Exercise: Research has shown that exercise may have a positive effect on anxiety as physical exercise triggers the release of feel good neurotransmitters called endorphins, which can have a positive effect on your mood. Read more on our exercise for mood blog!
Plan ahead: Anxiety, especially when linked with IBS, can be made worse if we are disorganised and have not thought ahead. Get up early, plan out where you will be throughout the day and any precautions you need to take which will help you along the way.
Guszkowska, M. (2004) Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatria Polska 38(4):611-620
For people suffering from anxiety as a result of IBS, there are some herbal products out there specifically designed to help.
Molkosan: If IBS is causing anxiety it makes sense to try and tackle the underlying bowel issue first. Molkosan works well to create an environment to support the good bacteria in our gut, which if overtaken by any bad bacteria, is thought to irritate the gut and contribute to IBS symptoms.
Valerian and Hops: There are herbs that may help to address the anxiety directly. Valerian and Hops are useful for those who are prone to anxiety and help us maintain a normal response to stress.
If home and herbal remedies fail to give you the help you need, a trip to your doctor may be required.
The focus of your treatment should be to address the IBS first; although generally conventional treatments are short-lived solutions rather than tackling the root of the problem. Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication may be prescribed if necessary but beware of any side effects which may exacerbate IBS symptoms.
Hello. My name is Alison Cullen and I am an experienced nutritional therapist with a clinic in Ayrshire, Scotland. I currently combine running my clinic with the role of Education Manager for A Vogel. I lecture, train and write extensively on health issues, which I find endlessly fascinating.
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