Irritable bowel syndrome affects your large intestine. When you suffer from IBS, you can experience abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gas, and stomach pain. This GI disorder is chronic and requires long term management. Researchers are unsure of how stress and IBS are related, or which one even comes first. However, studies have discovered that IBS and stress often occur together. The National Institutes of Health reports that approximately 40 to 60 percent of IBS sufferers suffer from a psychiatric disorder like depression or anxiety.
How Stress Affects Your Gut Health?
The central nervous system is made up of the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves. This important system controls the body. The central nervous system can be divided into two parts – your sympathetic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system.
Typically, these two parts of your nervous system work together. The parasympathetic system controls numerous bodily functions including saliva and tear production, urination, defecation, and digestion. The parasympathetic system is considered your digest and rest portion of the central nervous system.
Conversely, when the sympathetic nervous system activates, the fight or flight response gets triggered. When this occurs several hormones are released that control heartbeat and the amount of blood pumping to muscles. Finally, digestion slows down or even stops when the sympathetic nervous system is activated.
Stress Can Trigger IBS
Stress can arise from an actual or perceived event that affects the balance between your body, brain, and mind. It can be short term (acute) or long term (chronic).
Stress can impact irritable bowel syndrome in several ways, including:
- Blood flow to the intestines can be reduced.
- Systemic inflammation can occur.
- You can experience increased intestinal permeability.
- Your immune system can activate.
Treating Stress and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Oftentimes, IBS sufferers know where their stress comes from; however, there are certain individuals that have difficulty pinpointing their stress. One way to help you determine what is stressing you out is to keep a journal.
You should keep track of your thoughts and feelings, the foods you eat, and the things you do. In addition, write down any symptoms you experience. Remember no detail should be ignored. It may take some time, but once you have determined the stressors in your life, you can begin taking the necessary steps to either eliminate them or learn to cope with stressful situations.
Strategies to Relieve Stress and Reduce IBS Flare Ups
Stress can increase the risk of irritable bowel syndrome flare ups. Learning effective coping strategies may help to reduce your IBS symptoms. Here are some tips to help you cope with stress.
- Stress Relief Practices – Stress relief techniques including yoga, meditation, and guided imagery may help to reduce the number of IBS flare ups. By focusing your thoughts and taking deep breaths, you can melt away tension and reduce stomach woes.
- Sleep – Your body rests and recovers when you sleep. Getting at least seven to nine hours of sleep each night allows the body to recover. While you sleep, your body creates hormones, resets digestion, consolidates memories, and repairs cells, tissues, and organs. If you are having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, set a regular bedtime, get up at the same time each day, and avoid using electronic devices before bedtime.
- Seek Help – When you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, it can be extremely stressful. Talking with a psychiatrist or a psychologist about the effects IBS is having on your life can help. They can teach you stress relief techniques including cognitive behavioral therapy that helps teach you how to change your reaction to stress.
- IBS Support Group – Did you know that there are support groups for individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome? IBS affects all areas of your life. A support group with people dealing with similar issues can help you learn to manage your stress levels and even control your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
- Complementary Medicine – Complementary medicine can bring tranquility to the body, spirit, and mind, and promote inner healing. Acupuncture, reiki, and massage are just a few of the techniques that can help you cope with your IBS symptoms.
- Continue Journaling – Journaling not only helps you identify the things that are causing your stress, but it also can help you determine which stress relief methods work best to improve your symptoms. Journal the methods that you try, the amount of stress you are under, and how symptoms are responding.
- Mindful Eating – Mindful eating is a technique that involves focusing on how the foods you are eating will nourish your body. As you slowly enjoy each bite, speak to yourself proclaiming that the food will not cause you any symptoms. In the beginning, it may be difficult to practice mindful eating; however, in time, it will become second nature.
- Practice Gratitude – Living with irritable bowel syndrome can be stressful. It can feel like everything is against you. You can learn to spot little glimpses of hope and a silver lining in the bleakest circumstances. Looking for things to be thankful for will help you focus on the positive things going on in your life rather than focusing on the unpleasant IBS symptoms.
- Daily Exercise – Exercise is a perfect way to reduce stress and improve gut health. The best exercises to relieve the symptoms of IBS include swimming, biking, and walking. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should include both aerobic exercises and strength training exercises for good health.
Ready to Seek Help for IBS
Stress and irritable bowel syndrome go hand in hand. Stress can cause flare ups, and IBS can cause stress. Our functional medicine clinicians help identify the root cause of your Irritable Bowel Syndrome problem rather than just treating your IBS symptoms. The intent is to reduce your flare ups, decrease your stress, and improve your health and well-being.