The Connection Between Stress and IBS
Stress is something everyone feels, but if you have IBS, it can be a big deal for your gut.
Stress describes a state of overwhelm, a feeling of being under too much pressure, or being unable to cope. Stress can be a result of too much work, difficult life situations, or not having enough time to relax.
Signs of stress include feeling annoyed, worried, or having trouble coping. It can also show up in your body, with symptoms like headaches, trouble sleeping, and clenching your jaw.
Stress can affect how we act too; you might find yourself being short-tempered and turning to less healthy behaviours as a way of coping.
When Stress Becomes a Problem:
Some stress is normal, but too much or constant stress can impact our physical and mental health. If you have IBS, stress can make your symptoms worse. Stress can even have a role in how IBS develops.
Stress and your gut:
Remember from our first lesson about the gut brain axis, that your gut and brain talk to each other. This means that when you feel stressed, your gut feels it too. In fact, every gut function is vulnerable to the effects of stress.
When you're stressed, your brain releases stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones trigger a range of mental and physical responses. You might notice an increase in your heart rate and breathing, tense muscles, a restless mind or headache. But it doesn't stop there - these ‘high alert’ hormones also affect your gut.
For example, stress hormones can speed up contractions in your gut, leading to diarrhoea and cramps. They can increase gut wall sensitivity, heightening pain. Stress hormones can also lead to an increase acid production, and even mess with your gut bacteria.
If stress is short-lived, these symptoms will pass as stress hormones fall. But, stress that goes on for a long time can aggravate symptoms on an ongoing basis.
Exploring ways to cope with stress
Stress isn’t something you can get rid of, and some stress is normal. But you can take positive steps to manage external pressures and learn new coping strategies.
Reducing stress levels can also have a positive effect on symptoms. This is particularly important if you know that stress is a trigger for you.
Join us in the final lesson for this week, where we’ll be sharing some approaches to managing stress.