Stress and constipation

  2 min


  • Stress

When we feel overwhelmed by our busy lives or if we're stressed for too long, our digestive systems can pay the price. Thankfully, our bodies send us signals when they're not happy. And one of these is constipation. Stress and constipation often go hand in hand.

How can stress affect your body?

Work stress and constipation

Deadlines, presentations and workloads can all cause stress - and this can have an impact on your gut. When you're stressed, your body releases hormones that trigger your fight or flight response. When this happens, your body diverts the flow of blood from your intestines towards vital organs, including the heart, lungs and brain. As a result of all this, your intestinal movements slow down, and you can become constipated5,2.

Life stress and constipation

Personal problems, money worries and relationship issues can all impact heavily on your digestive system6. These things can all cause emotional stress, and your body can react by becoming constipated3.

Anxiety and constipation

Anxiety and depression are both linked to functional gastrointestinal disorders like constipation. Studies show high rates of constipation in people who suffer from anxiety3. Emotional stress can also exacerbate pain in the bowels, and this can lead to constipation2. If you have symptoms of anxiety or depression, you should speak to your doctor who will be able to help.

Disturbed sleep and constipation

When you aren't getting enough sleep, your tummy might feel bloated or uncomfortable. Poor sleep can also affect your bowel functions and lead to constipation7. To run as it should, your body needs rest and routine.

How does stress trigger constipation?

Although science has shown a strong link between anxiety disorders, stress and constipation, the cause hasn't yet been confirmed1. However, we do know that stress hormones - and their effect on the body - can cause constipation2. Stress can also lead to unhealthy habits that are associated with constipation. For example, when someone is stressed, they are less likely to exercise and get good sleep, and more likely to eat unhealthy food.

Second brain (gut-brain axis)

Science has discovered that we have an entire nerve system that lines our digestive tracts. These nerves, consisting of millions of neurons, control the digestion of food. In states of stress and anxiety, disruption to this system, known as the gut-brain axis, can reduce the speed at which food moves through the gastrointestinal tract. And this can cause constipation3,4.

Abdominal fullness

During stressful times, you might experience feelings of abdominal fullness. Better known as 'bloating'. This could be from what we call 'intestinal permeability'. This is when inflammatory compounds get into the intestines. Stress can create this condition in your body, and it could be the cause of your discomfort5,2.

Stress hormones

When you experience high-level stress, your body reacts by releasing a hormone called epinephrine (or adrenalin). When this happens, your body goes into survival mode and diverts the blood flow away from the intestines, towards vital organs such as the heart, lungs or brain. As a result, intestinal movements tend to slow down and this triggers constipation5,2.

A few tricks to move things along

Feeling overwhelmed and stressed can be a real challenge for your body, including your digestive system. And when your body tells you it's unhappy by becoming constipated, it might be time to make some changes to your life to reduce your stress levels.

1. Get active

Being physically active helps keep your bowels active. There's no need to change your whole lifestyle, just start by taking a half-hour walk three times a week.

2. Take care of yourself

It's so important to make time for yourself. Your body needs rest and quiet moments to function properly, so try to make time in your week to relax. Whether it's reading, taking a long bath or watching your favourite film, do whatever makes you feel calm.

3. Think about professional help

When your body sends you signals that it's not feeling great, it's time to do something about it. Sudden or prolonged periods of stress can trigger constipation and discomfort. This is your body telling you to slow down. If you’re having problems with stress, anxiety or even depression, we’d advise you to talk to your doctor about it.

Find everything you need to know to help you go