An introduction to IBS and stress
Stress can be said to fall under the same bracket as other psychological issues associated with the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) such as anxiety or panic attacks.
In general, stress can be the result of anything from daily worries to a major incident. Research suggests that chronic or long term stress, especially in children or teenagers, has been linked to the onset of IBS later in life. However, can IBS also cause stress?
In this page, we discuss how IBS can cause stress. The effect that stress and other psychological issues can have on IBS is discussed in our page [psychological factors and IBS].
Chitkara, D.K. (2008) Early life risk factors that contribute to irritable bowel syndrome in adults: a systematic review. Am J Gastroenterol 103(3)
Why does IBS cause stress?
There is no doubt that IBS can be a stressful experience. IBS is an umbrella term used for a very varied range of symptoms with a number of causes.
This can be frustrating and a sufferers’ experience of IBS can vary from mild to very severe. Specific digestive symptoms such as bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea may be embarrassing, unpredictable, unpleasant and often quite debilitating.
If you suffer IBS, you will not be alone in feeling that IBS has a big impact on your life - where you go and what you do is suddenly determined by your bowels.
In the body there is a brain-gut connection which offers some explanation as to why psychological issues such as stress, anxiety and depression are often related to IBS. It is possible that the gut environment of someone suffering from IBS is particularly sensitive which sends signals to the brain resulting in us becoming stressed.
Managing your IBS could be the key to helping with your stress levels and breaking this cycle. Find out more at our treating IBS page.
What can I try at home for stress?
A few simple lifestyle changes may help to address stress as a result of IBS.
- Relax: Busy lifestyles cause many of us to feel stressed. Take time out to focus on yourself, doing 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, cooking or a specific technique such as yoga or meditation, relaxing our minds will have a positive effect and help with stress
- Cut out caffeine: Caffeine releases adrenaline in the body which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response. This state may result in us feeling jittery or have heart palpitations which will only add to stress. Try switching your tea or coffee for a coffee substitute or a relaxing herbal tea such as camomile to help keep those stressful feelings at bay
- Exercise: Research has shown that exercise may have a positive effect on anxiety and stress as physical exertion triggers the release of feel good neurotransmitters called endorphins which can have a positive effect on your mood
- Plan ahead: Stress, especially when linked with IBS, can be made worse if we are disorganised and haven’t 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.
Fox, K.R. (2007) The influence of physical activity on mental well-being. Public Health nutrition 2(3a): 411-418
How can herbal remedies help me?
For people suffering from anxiety as a result of IBS, there are some herbal products out there specifically designed to help.
If IBS is the cause of your stress then address this issue first. Try a silicic acid supplement such as Silicol gel which acts as a protective barrier for the digestive tract, soothing and calming the walls of the intestine.
Use herbs that help to tackle stress directly. The A.Vogel Stress Relief Drops contain a combination of two herbs, Valerian and Hops, traditionally used to help deal with stress.
How can my doctor help?
If home and herbal remedies fail to give you the help you need, a trip to your doctor may be needed.
Your doctor may decide that the main reason you are stressed is because of IBS and can offer you short-term relief from this in the form of anti-diarrhoeal, anti-spasmodic or laxative medicines depending on your symptoms.
Talking therapies, for example support groups, or one-to-one cognitive behavioural therapy can also be useful in helping you deal with stress.