Anxiety poops nearly ruined Adam Rippon’s Olympic dreams.
Rippon, a professional figure skater, opened up about his nervous bowels in a series of Instagram videos in 2018. Rather than fighting the urge to defecate before stepping onto the ice, he made the decision to accept it.
“Embrace your nervous sh*ts,” he implored. “Every hour on the hour I am taking a nervous sh*t until I compete. It’s a cross I have to bear.”
Fortunately, emergency trips to the toilet didn’t hamper Rippon’s performance, as evidenced by the bronze medal he won at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Maybe you haven’t competed in front of the whole world, but you’ve probably encountered nerve-wracking experiences that gave you the sudden urge to poop. What gives?
In this article, we explore how anxiety affects your digestive system and offer tips to get your stress-induced poops under control.
Why Does Anxiety Make You Poop?
Your brain and your bowels are more closely connected than you might think. There’s even a scientific name for this relationship: the gut-brain axis (GBA). This is the link between your central nervous system and your enteric nervous system (ENS), a web of 100+ million neurons stretching from the lower part of your esophagus down to your rectum.
Basically, your ENS is like a second brain.
When your brain enters fight or flight mode, your ENS responds by increasing secretion of hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin which can stimulate the gastrointestinal tract. Depending how your body is wired, that can cause one of two things to happen:
- A “rapid transit” of the small intestine, which triggers unexpected bowel movements (and potentially anxiety diarrhea)
- A “slowing of transit” in the colon, leading to constipation.
For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stressful situations often make these digestive issues even more problematic. One study from 2016 found a strong correlation between people with IBS and people with anxiety. If you have IBS, excessive stress may cause diarrhea, bloating, cramping, and abdominal pain.
Bottom line: if you feel like you’re about to crap your pants before a big presentation or a first date, it’s not a coincidence.
5 Ways to Control Your Anxiety Poops
Pooping is an essential part of your overall well-being, so you don’t want to hold in your dumps for too long (that causes problems of its own). That said, constantly running to the bathroom with your cheeks clenched isn’t ideal.
Here are a few ways to calm your nervous bowels.
1. Relaxation Techniques
When you feel stressed, relaxation techniques can ease the symptoms of anxiety, which should settle your GI symptoms. Here are some common relaxation techniques that Mayo Clinic recommends:
- Deep breathing
- Mindfulness meditation
- Positive visualization
2. Mindful Eating
As the name implies, mindful eating is the practice of being fully attentive to your food, rather than scarfing it down while you scroll through Instagram or watch TV. Paying close attention to your eating habits can make it easier for your body to digest food.
One meta-analysis found that mindful eating is “integral to dealing with stress” and mindfulness interventions are considered lifestyle medicine for conditions that impair digestion.
3. Avoid Trigger Foods
Eating foods that make you poop right away can make you nervous, which makes the urge to go even stronger. It’s a vicious, dirty cycle. Try to avoid these inflammatory foods if you’re anticipating a high-stress situation:
4. Increase Your Probiotic Intake
Probiotics regulate your digestive system and treat symptoms of IBS, including diarrhea. On top of that, a 2017 review found that probiotics may also treat anxiety. That’s a win-win if you’re dealing with anxiety poops.
Add more probiotic-rich foods, like Greek yogurt, to your diet. Or pop a probiotic supplement in the morning.
5. Get to the Root Cause of Your Anxiety
Treating the physical symptoms of your nervous bowels is important, but it’s even more important to stay on top of your mental health.
Consider talking to a counselor to treat the underlying cause of your anxiety poops. Whether it’s a phobia or a generalized anxiety disorder, a healthcare professional can give you techniques to cope and calm your nerves.
Are Anxiety Poops Normal?
Pooping when you’re nervous is a completely normal bodily function. Science says so. Anxiety makes some people sweat, some people shiver, and many people sh*t.
Most of the time, anxiety poops can be managed through lifestyle changes. However, if you’re dealing with chronic anxiety diarrhea, unintended weight loss, or severe pain, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
On a lighter note, remember to keep DUDE Wipes handy in the event of a panic poop. They might not soothe your mind, but they definitely soothe your bum. And we all know it’s hard to stay calm when your butt is burning from toilet paper.