Can Anxiety Or Stress Cause Diarrhea?


Medics have established a strong link between the stress people feel affecting their bodies, including the stomach and intestines. The body is “wired” to react to stress.  This article will help you to understand can anxiety or stress cause diarrhea?

When you sense anxiety, your brain transmits signals to your body via the sympathetic nervous system. This response is known as the fight-or-flight response. Your heart races up, you appear more alert, and your muscles tighten up, eager for action. 

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However, this response is biologically designed to encourage people to flee from someone or something hunting them — not for the daily stressors of jobs, deadlines, family responsibilities, money, etc. 

Stress and Anxiety: Defined:

Stress is a sense of emotional or physical tension. It can develop from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, annoyed, or nervous. Stress is your body’s response to a difficulty or requirement. In short rounds, stress can be positive, such as when it serves you to avoid an emergency or meet a deadline. 

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Anxiety is your body’s natural reaction to stress. It is a sensation of fear or anxiety about what is to happen. On the first day of school, proceeding to a job interview or delivering a speech may cause most people to feel frightful and nervous. 

Physical Signs of Anxiety:

Well-known anxiety signs and symptoms include: 

  • Sensing nervous, uneasy, or tense 
  • Begetting a sense of approaching danger, alarm, or doom 
  • Having a raised heart rate 
  • Breathing quickly (hyperventilation) 
  • Sweating 
  • Shivering 
  • Feeling low or tired 
  • Difficulty focusing or thinking about anything other than the existing worry 
  • Having difficulty sleeping 
  • Encountering gastrointestinal (GI) problems 
  • Having trouble managing worry 
  • Possessing the urge to dodge things that trigger anxiety 
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The Link Between Anxiety and Diarrhea: 

Anxiety is a mental health state that has a wide span of symptoms. It can include long-term patterns of notable worry, agitation, or fearfulness. For many people, it can also induce physical symptoms. 

You are not alone if you get diarrhea around stressful or anxiety-producing conditions and events. It’s pretty common to undergo stomach problems with anxiety. For some, you are fretting about having diarrhea in public, or an unknown location adds to existing tension. 

But it is likely to handle this symptom and reduce its influence on your life. Browse on to learn more. 

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Why does it Happen? 

diarrhea and other digestive difficulties that frequently accompany anxiety can result from the link between your gut and your brain, recognized as the gut-brain axis studied by experts

The axis relates your central nervous system (CNS) to your enteric nervous system (ENS), which functions as your gut’s nervous system. The enteric nervous system helps manage your gastrointestinal (GI) tract processes. But it also affects your emotions and behaviour through its connection to your brain. 

When you are distressed, chemical messengers transmit signals from your brain to your gut. Your gut sometimes reacts to these signals with physical symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation. 

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This link goes both ways. If you have digestive problems or other gastrointestinal problems, you might feel psychological symptoms. And having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or similar conditions is connected to an extended risk for anxiety and other mood symptoms. 

High-stress and Diarrhea: The Connection:  

Stress and your gut are connected more than you understand. First, stress affects the muscles in the bowels and intestines. This response can impair the ability of the intestines to filter out toxic gut bacteria. The immune system operates to the rescue with inflammatory responses two out of three times.

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However, when you are stressed over a prolonged period, your intestines keep messing up their filtration functions. Your nervous system responds with more inflammatory responses, directing to a mild diarrhea case.  

The most apparent connection between continuous stress and diarrhea is hormonal changes. In response to stress, a psychological Fight-or-Flight Response occurs. This sympathetic response stimulates the discharge of hormones that prepare the body to take action. 

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At the same time, your brain transmits a signal to your bowels to raise bowel movement in the large intestine. This response leads to a mild case of diarrhea.  

What is stress poop? 

Stress poop. Also understood as “stress poo,” – It is the act of pooping following incredibly stressful or nerve-wracking circumstances. 

What is stress poop? 
GIF Source : Adult Swim

Experts believe that stress pooping is an anxiety-induced bowel movement. If the stress is not severe enough, some people also have to battle with embarrassing and awkward situations of urgency and undesired pooping.

Nervous poops may be a frustrating aspect, but they are normal. This phenomenon is because when the stakes are high, the brain identifies it—and so does the gut. 

Can Anxiety Cause Liquid Diarrhea? 

A typical physical indication of anxiety is stomach upset, including diarrhea or loose stools. Some people consider how a person feels can affect how their stomach and intestines behave, potentially causing diarrhea symptoms. Sometimes, diarrhea is a continuing condition for a person. 

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Can Stress Cause Bloody Diarrhea? 

While stress can add to various stomach symptoms, e.g., indigestion, a changeable bowel habit, and gastric bloating and cramping, it does not typically induce rectal bleeding. 

Stress And Other Gastrointestinal Symptoms: 

Stress may lead to vomiting, indigestion, constipation, loss of appetite, or increased thirst.   

The fear of diarrhea can also become a source of anxiety and worsen the problem. So, when you feel stressed, it ends in diarrhea.

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Having diarrhea can drive to more stress. Hence the link between environmental or psychological stress and gastrointestinal discomfort is complicated and bidirectional. Stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal distress and additional symptoms, and vice versa.

Furthermore, stress and anxiety can cause nausea, vomiting, heartburn, acid reflux, gas, bloating, stomach ache, diarrhea, constipation, and bowel spasms within the digestive system. 

How Long Does Stress Diarrhea Last? 

diarrhea typically lasts up to 3 days.

Stress And Other Medical Conditions: 

People can encounter the physical impacts of stress in different ways. Some regularly experience an upset stomach or intestinal cramping. Others have various symptoms. Examples of these can include: 

  • loss of appetite  
  • trouble sleeping 
  • tiredness 
  • the impaired immune system, such as getting more colds 
  • low energy levels 
  • weight decline 
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Constant stress can produce severe and long-term health difficulties, such as 

  • heart disease 
  • high blood pressure 
  • diabetes 

Management of Stress Diarrhea: 

A person who encounters stress-induced diarrhea will require treating the physical symptoms and managing the stress that triggered them. 

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Treating diarrhea 

Most occurrences of diarrhea remain only a few days, and they do not want medical treatment. Yet, the following steps can help relieve diarrhea and its linked symptoms, helping a person’s recovery. 

  • Stay hydrated: When a person has diarrhea, their small intestine and colon do not incorporate minerals and fluids as they should. This dysfunction can occur in dehydration. People can support their hydration by drinking plenty of water and eating some fruit juices and soups. Some fruit juices include much-needed potassium, while soups can replenish lost sodium. 
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  • Have tiny amounts of simple carbohydrates: Consuming bland carbohydrates, such as cooked rice and pasta, is a helpful way of getting liquid into the body. Bland carbohydrates are also readily digestible. 
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  • Avoid rich or savoury foods: Rich or flavorful foods can put extra strain on the digestive system, probably worsening or lengthening diarrhea. 

WHO has prescribed over-the-counter medicines that can help to decrease bowel movement rates in the initial stages of diarrhea. 

Managing Stress 

Prolonged stress can produce severe health problems. However, there are many ways to handle stress and build up the flexibility to the triggers that create it. People can frequently do this by: 

  • Recognizing stress triggers: A person can utilize a notebook to record their stress and the situations it occurs. Once a person has identified their stress triggers, they can consider measures to deal with them. 
  • Taking small steps to reduce the impact of stress triggers may involve practising a breathing exercise, counting slowly to 10, or taking a temporary break from the stressor. 
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  • Practising activities that lessen stress: Easy activities, such as yoga, spending time in nature, and getting a hot bath, can assist in alleviating stress. 
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  • Maintaining a healthful lifestyle includes eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep
  • Avoid using quick fixes: Alcohol, tobacco, and different substances may briefly mask the symptoms of stress, but they will create more harm in the long term. 
  • Seeking assistance from family and colleagues: Communicating through problems and concerns with others can lighten a person’s mental pressure. It can also provide the person with an external view of what is troubling them and how they might deal with it. 

You Might Need Help: 

Stress can be devastating. It is necessary to ask for assistance if you need it. See your physician if: 

  • You are practising substances, such as liquor or drugs, to cope with your anxiety. 
  • You are having ideas of self-harm. 
  • Your experiences of stress-related diarrhea appear more like the norm than the exemption. 
  • The at-home strategies you are trying are not serving. 

If something seems out of the regular or affects your daily life, speak to your doctor. Solutions are open, and they can stop this problem. 

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Stress is a natural bodily response and can affect many aspects of a person’s health, including digestion. 

Stress-induced diarrhea improves typically soon after the stressful event that triggered it has passed. However, a person should see a physician if they endure continued or repeated periods of stress or stress-induced diarrhea. 

A physician may suggest lifestyle changes, speaking therapies, or medicines to handle stress and limit physical symptoms, including diarrhea.

Featured photo by Marco Verch Professional Photographer

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Dr. Neha Shoaib Saya

Dr. Neha Shoaib Saya

Dr. Neha Shoaib Saya is an author at Nearmonk.com. She is a bachelor of dental surgery (BDS) and currently working as a general dentist. She has a good knowledge of public health, and she helps people take proper care of their health.

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