About a year ago I was experiencing extreme stomach pain. I'm talking cramping, bloating, discomfort, constipation, the whole works. I thought it was just something I ate and it wasn't digesting, so I went to my doctor and he told me to get laxatives.
But weeks went by and it was still happening. It was so bad that I went to emergency and waited over 5 hours to see a doctor. I explained my symptoms to her and then she asked me how I handle my stress. I immediately burst into tears. She told me I had stressed induced irritable bowl syndrome.
What is IBS?
IBS is a disorder of the large bowel that interferes with normal functions of the colon. People either experience diarrhea or constipation. In my case, it was constipation and this is when food moves too slow through the colon and too much fluid is absorbed. When food moves too quickly through the colon and fluid can't be absorbed fast enough, diarrhea occurs.
There has been research that the colon is more sensitive to physiologic and/or emotional stress in people.
Some foods that are thought to cause physiologic stress are: caffeinated drinks, chocolate, alcohol, dairy products and wheat.
Now, when she first diagnosed me with "stress induced" IBS, I thought it was literally BS. I thought she was just diagnosing me to diagnose me and get me out of her office. But as months, heck even a year later went by, I can see my relation between stress and my IBS. When I am stressed (which, sometimes I don't even know I am) I tense up. I tend to wrap my arms around my body as an act of protection. I feel tired, irritable and have a heavy chest.
Your intestines and digestive system do the same thing - they tense up, causing you to have a harder time digesting food.
I asked Nutritionist, Cameron who specializes in anxiety coaching to expand on the topic:
Although IBS has no known cause, stress and anxiety can be big contributors to the gas, bloating, constipation, and/or abdominal pain IBS sufferers often experience. The gut is known as the "second brain" because neurotransmitters (often referred to as brain chemicals) are also found in the gut! This means that what's going on in the gut affects the brain, and vice versa, ie: gut-brain connection. The digestive system also has its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system, which you'd recognize if you ever felt "gut feelings" or "butterflies" in your stomach.
So while it's unclear if anxiety/stress causes IBS or vice versa, it's really important stress and anxiety relief be part of keeping IBS under control. Daily meditation (even 5 minutes), gratitude journaling, breathe work, exercise, being in naturem, or epsom salt baths are all great ways to reduce stress and anxiety.
You can find out more about Cameron at www.cameronsimcik.com.
Like I mentioned above, I was at first in denial that stress could cause all of this - even though I KNOW that the mind and the body are largely related. I tend to get IBS symptoms at certain periods of the day and when I am stressed. The symptoms go away when I do relaxing things like exercise, walk, do breathing work, and when doing yoga. So it's clear that stress-reducing activities help your gut health.
Have you experienced IBS? Do you think that stress can be related to it?