If you find that you get diarrhea when you are stressed, you are not alone. In a survey of over 2,000 sufferers of frequent acute (short-term) diarrhea in the U.S., 25% of respondents indicated that nerves, anxiety, or stress were the cause of their diarrhea1.
Keep reading to learn about stress-induced diarrhea and how to manage and decrease your symptoms.
What is Stress-Induced Diarrhea?
Stress diarrhea is loose stools that occur when you are dealing with stressful situations. If stress is the cause of your diarrhea, you may also experience one or more of the following symptoms2,3:
- Headaches or neck tension
- Tiredness or sleep problems
- Irritability and restlessness
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Sadness or depression
- Changes in libido (sex drive)
Stress can cause diarrhea because of the connection between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis. This axis connects your central nervous system—the brain and spinal cord—to your enteric (intestinal) nervous system3. When you’re stressed, neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) travel along this pathway to your gut, where they regulate the movement of water and electrolytes4.
The diarrhea symptoms that you experience during stressful situations may be part of your body’s fight-or-flight reaction5. The discomfort and embarrassment from diarrhea can compound the stress that you are feeling.
How Long Does Stress Diarrhea Last?
Most episodes of diarrhea are harmless and should last less than two days2. Stress-induced diarrhea typically goes away once the stressful event has passed. If you have severe or persistent diarrhea, visit a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions. Visit a doctor if you experience6:
- Worsening symptoms or diarrhea that lasts for more than two days in adults
- Dehydration (signs include excessive thirst, dark yellow urine, no urine, severe weakness, or confusion)
- Severe abdominal pain or swelling
- Stools with blood or pus, or stools that look black or tarry
Tips to Stress Less and Prevent Stress-Induced Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be your body’s way of telling you that something might be wrong. But it can also make life even more difficult for you. Addressing the source of your stress and managing your response, is one way to deal with stress diarrhea7. If you are having trouble managing your stress, speak to your healthcare provider.
Identify Your Stress Triggers
Sometimes it may be difficult to know what circumstance or event is causing you the most anxiety. Even positive events, such as buying a house, can be stressful. Learning your stress triggers is the first step in monitoring your stress. Think about what makes you feel angry, worried, or irritable. What is occurring or what are you thinking about when you have stress-related GI issues?
Create Time to Relax and Recharge
If you feel stressed out, give yourself a break. Create time to relax and recharge, take proper lunch breaks at work, read an interesting magazine or book, or listen to some music. Consider adding yoga or meditation to your routine. Everyone has different ways to relax—just make sure that you set time aside for yourself.
Get Enough Sleep
We all perform better when we’re properly rested. This is because our bodies do the most healing while we sleep. If your body is out of whack from stress, sleep is an essential ingredient to feeling better.
Share Your Problems
You don’t need to figure everything out on your own. Seek help and support from trusted family members and friends. Consider letting them help with the things that may be preventing you from taking time to relax and recharge.
A great way to de-stress and keep your overall digestive system healthy is by exercising several times a week. Exercise releases chemicals called endorphins (“happy hormones”), which counteract the negative effects of stress. Slowly build up to an exercise routine if you are not used to exercise.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
Laughter is a great stress reducer and boosts the immune system, which is often weakened by stress. Spending time with friends is a great way to keep the mood lighter and share each other’s troubles.
Managing and Treating Stress Related Diarrhea
There are additional ways to manage stress-related diarrhea when it occurs. Being mindful of what you drink and eat may help your gut to return to normal more quickly.
Diarrhea causes a person to lose more minerals and fluids than usual, resulting in dehydration. Boost your hydration by drinking plenty of water and electrolyte drinks. Try to drink at least 1 cup of water every time you have a loose bowel movement8.
Improve Your Gut Health
Another reason why stress and diarrhea often go together is that stress can cause changes in the gut bacteria4. Try adding probiotic supplements or drinks (kefir) to your diet to help boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Take an OTC Anti-Diarrheal
Having diarrhea can be stressful in and of itself, especially if you’re already feeling under pressure.
IMODIUM® products contain an active ingredient called loperamide, which works to help restore your digestive system to its normal pace—giving you one less thing to feel anxious about. There are different IMODIUM® products available to choose from to help treat your symptoms. For example, if you have gas, cramps, or bloating accompanying your diarrhea symptoms, choose IMODIUM® Multi-Symptom Relief.
If symptoms persist for more than two days or get worse, stop use and consult your healthcare professional.
2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/stress-diarrhea 3. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body 4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1586/17474124.2014.911659 5. https://dictionary.apa.org/fight-or-flight-response 6. https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/digestive-disorders/symptoms-of-digestive-disorders/diarrhea-in-adults 7. https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-calm-anxious-stomach-brain-gut-connection 8. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000121.htm