When you Google “symptoms of stress,” you’ll find a long list that includes headaches, trouble sleeping, fatigue, binge eating, and plenty more. These are all legit. However, there’s one inconvenient symptom of stress that most people would rather not discuss…
If you’re under pressure and find yourself running to the can with the Hershey squirts, it might not be a coincidence. Your mental health and gut health are more closely linked than you might think.
Stress affects everyone differently, especially when it comes to tummy troubles. It’s definitely possible that stress is causing your diarrhea. Read on to learn why stress leads to more bathroom trips and how to calm your brain (and bowels).
Can Stress Cause Diarrhea?
Yep—diarrhea is (unfortunately) a common physical symptom of stress. The primary culprit for those stress-induced poops is something called the “gut-brain axis,” or GBA. This helps your central nervous system communicate with your enteric nervous system, a web of 100+ million nerves stretching from your esophagus to your butt hole.
When your brain experiences stress or anxiety, it triggers your fight or flight response. This raises your blood pressure and sends a signal to your gut to release cortisol: a stress hormone known to speed things up in the large intestine.
The result? Loose bowel movements.
Doctors have studied the link between stress and diarrhea for almost a century. The earliest research dates back to 1947 when doctors used instruments to measure men’s colon contractions during stressful situations, like performing difficult tasks or sitting in traffic.
The doctors found that high-stress situations correlated strongly with intestinal cramping—and we all know what follows those rumbles: the sudden urge to blast your breakfast out of your rear end.
It’s worth noting that everyone’s stress responses are different. You might get diarrhea, but plenty of people have the opposite problem: constipation. (That explains travel constipation).
Scientists aren’t sure why stressors cause opposite digestive problems in different people. It could be due to genetics or the makeup of your microbiome, which refers to the trillions of bacteria in your digestive tract.
Does IBS Increase Your Risk of Stress Diarrhea?
Anybody can get the runs during a bout of stress. However, gastroenterologists suggest that folks with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be at a higher risk for stress-related diarrhea.
As the name implies, IBS makes the digestive system more irritable, so stress makes poop problems worse than they might be for other people. Up to 60% of people with IBS experience anxiety disorders, according to CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics.
“A distinguishing feature of IBS is that symptoms, including abdominal pain, are often triggered or exacerbated during periods of stress,” the researchers wrote. “Chronic stress can change motility and permeability throughout the gastrointestinal tract.”
Other digestive health conditions that affect the large or small intestines may increase the risk of stress diarrhea. These include inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), specifically Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
How Long Does Stress Diarrhea Last?
If you’re stressed about one particular event—like a job interview or date—your stress diarrhea will go away once it’s over. This temporary case of the runs doesn’t require a trip to the doctor.
However, if you have an anxiety disorder or feel stressed every day, you could have chronic diarrhea that lasts much longer. If you’re in this latter camp, talk to a healthcare professional to get your physical and emotional symptoms sorted out.
It’s especially important to contact a healthcare provider if your diarrhea is accompanied by unintended weight loss, severe stomach pain, or bloody stool—these can indicate a more serious digestive health condition.
3 Tips to Stop Stress Diarrhea
Stopping stress diarrhea requires a two-pronged approach: calming down your mind and calming down your gut. Here are a few tips to get the job done:
Get Physically Active
Exercise in any form is an awesome stress management technique. Physical activity boosts endorphins and takes your mind off the daily grind. Bonus: physical activity is great for your digestive system too.
Put away that doom-scrolling machine, lace up your sneakers, and break a sweat.
Pay Attention to Your Diet
Stress might tempt you to hit the drive-thru hard, grab some booze, or both. These might relieve your stress for a few minutes, but they don’t do your brain (or butt) any good in the long run. Instead, go for unprocessed foods that are packed with fiber and vitamins. Translation: fruits and veggies.
Oh, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water—diarrhea can dehydrate you fast.
Talk It Out
We DUDES don’t always like to admit when life isn’t going so hot, whether it’s our job, relationship, or personal stuff. But trust us when we say talking to a friend or family member about stress can go a long way in calming you down. There’s nothing like a good venting session.
Don’t Trust Toilet Paper with Diarrhea
Loose, watery stools are a pain to clean up—literally. All that extra wiping irritates the sensitive skin around your bum. If you’re not careful, you could end up with the dreaded polished anus syndrome.
When you’re already stressed, the last thing you need is a chapped rear to make matters worse. Ditch that roll of sandpaper and grab a pack of DUDE Wipes. They’re infused with aloe and vitamin E for a gentle wiping experience.
The bathroom has long been a refuge for DUDES to escape the world’s troubles—and we’re here to keep it that way.