Can stress cause diarrhea? Is a nervous stomach a real thing?
If an upcoming interview has ever sent you beelining to the bathroom, or a first date had to wait around while you played your IBS flare up off as being “fashionably late,” you know all too well the realities of stress-related diarrhea and the dreaded “nervous stomach.”
There’s a reason why we’re always referring to the stomach when talking about emotional situations. Whether it’s a “gut feeling,” “butterflies in your tummy,” or something that “turns your stomach,” we seem to understand that there’s a connection in there somewhere.
In scientific terms, that biological link is called the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis directly and indirectly links your central nervous system to your gastrointestinal system (commonly known as the GI tract). As something stressful or alarming happens in our lives, our brains send warning signals to our bellies which, in turn, react by causing anxiety, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.
We may refer to it as a nervous stomach, but when it comes down to it, it’s just another IBS flare up in disguise.
Learning to manage the symptoms of a stress-related IBS flare up is really about two things: getting to the root of the problem by learning how to manage the underlying stress, and being prepared for when attacks inevitably happen.
Acknowledge the Feeling and Take a Deep Breath
Yoga, deep breathing, and meditation are all proven methods for busting stress and relieving IBS symptoms. Often times, as we become overwhelmed, it helps to stop and acknowledge the fact for a few moments. Once you realize what’s happening, it becomes easier to take a few deep breaths, stretch it out, and move past the feeling. Next time you sense the symptoms of a nervous stomach coming on, take a few moments to yourself and give these 5 IBS-relieving yoga poses a try.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Every body is different, and as you learn to navigate your personal IBS journey, you’ll figure out what foods and ingredients bring out the worst in your belly. It can be hard to stick with a strict diet sometimes, but it’s especially important to pay close attention when going through a stressful time. What that means for you exactly depends heavily on your own body, but many studies have shown that following a low FODMAP diet has offered partial or complete relief for 50-70% of IBS sufferers. Either way, it's worth discover what foods help relieve IBS and which ones trigger symptoms for you, eliminating or reducing them, especially throughout stressful times.
Related Article: Is a Low FODMAP Diet Plan for Me?
Sip on Something Decaffeinated and Non-Alcoholic
We know, we know… where’s the fun in that?! But the truth is, while your daily glass of wine with dinner or cup of coffee in the morning might feel like they’re helping you deal with stress, they may be doing just the opposite for your nervous stomach anxiety. Alcohol and caffeine not only stimulate your system, but they’re also known to speed up your digestion, which means coffee and alcohol trigger IBS and anxiety diarrhea. Next time you’re feeling nervous, try swapping out that beer for a soothing chamomile tea instead.
Phone a Friend
Sometimes a little distraction is all your body needs to forget about the impending doom of your in-laws staying at your house for a month, for example. To calm your anxious stomach, try tricking your brain and gut by getting in touch with somebody that makes you happy. By the end of the conversation, you’ll be so busy chatting away, your stomach will forget that anything was bothering you in the first place.
Get to Know Your Patterns
The best thing you can do to calm a nervous stomach is to be mindful of how it’s affecting you and what seems to be helping every time. It may sound easy, but when those symptoms come around again, we tend to forget how to calm an IBS flare up, freak out, and run to the bathroom again. Whether you can remember on your own, or you have to write it down, paying attention to what helps you personally can pay off when it comes to reducing nervous stomach symptoms.