By Jeffrey Lazarus, MD, FAAP on May 18, 2020
Author, Controlling Your Gut Feelings Blog
In a time when almost everyone is stressed out, many people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are experiencing added discomfort because of anxiety-induced IBS, in addition to all their other worries.
IBS is a severe health condition that makes life more challenging for as many as 45 million Americans.
While it is unclear how anxiety and stress play a role in IBS symptoms, studies have found links. In more than half of diagnosed cases, IBS patients exhibit patterns and benchmarks for psychiatric disorders.
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental ailment that IBS sufferers have, and depression is also common.
In many cases, people with high levels of anxiety or stress worry about troubles related to relationships, school, finances, health, employment, and insecurity. These unsettling emotions can contribute to other non-IBS related symptoms, including irritability, difficulties sleeping, vertigo, sore muscles, and tremors.
How Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome Connected To Anxiety?
Numerous theories exist about how anxiety, stress, and irritable bowel syndrome are connected.
Some of the common discomforts of this disorder include digestive problems, and other gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and stomach pain.
As you might imagine, this health condition can be not only uncomfortable and inconvenient but also embarrassing.
Unfortunately, anxiety and stress can intensify the symptoms of this disorder. It’s believed that your body produces and releases hormones that affect your stomach and intestines when you’re stressed out or in an anxious state of mind.
These hormones can cause flareups and increase sensitivity and inflammation, as they change the bacterial balance in your gut. When this happens, abdominal pain, discomfort, and irregular bowel movements are not uncommon.
The troubles of irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety may increase to immense proportions when combined with eating foods suspected of contributing to gut pain and gastrointestinal discomfort.
When a flareup occurs, IBS symptoms can last from two to five days, and they often stop as suddenly as they arrived.
IBS And Adolescence
Life is stressful for people of all ages. As a teenager, there are more distractions and concerns than ever before. Worries about being popular on social media, body image, and other outside influences can have a dramatic impact on the mental health of today’s youth.
Not surprisingly, irritable bowel syndrome in adolescence is a health condition that affects as many as 14% of teenagers.
In some cases, this health condition is identifiable in youth as young as seven or eight years old.
Minimize Symptoms of IBS And Stress-Induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you’re experiencing stomach problems and suspect that IBS caused by stress is partially or wholly to blame, luckily, there are holistic steps you can take to feel better.
Here are some recommendations for dealing with IBS symptoms brought on by stress or anxiety.
Take A Time Out From The News And Media. While it’s crucial to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world around us, overconsuming news and media can have a detrimental effect on your sense of well-being, especially in light of recent events, including health crises and economic uncertainty and civil unrest.
By being mindful of the quality and amount of media you consume, you can easily tune out the background noise that makes you feel anxious, stressed out, restless, or weary.
Exercise – Exercise is a great way to blow off steam and counter symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety. Even light exercise helps your body to release endorphins – or “feel good” hormones that counteract feelings of depression and anxiety.
Further, exercise helps to keep your internal organs functioning at more optimal levels. Additional benefits of exercising could include weight loss, increased muscle tone, and higher levels of mental clarity and feelings of well-being. All of those qualities are excellent for combatting IBS.
Be Mindful Of Your Diet – If you tend to turn to food when you’re feeling emotional, the foods you choose could also be contributing to painful IBS symptoms.
While the foods that trigger IBS flareups can vary wildly from person to person, some of the most common foods worth avoiding include ones that contain high levels of insoluble fiber and gluten.
Other foods that may cause IBS sensitivities include dairy-rich food, deep-fried foods, legumes, beans, caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, chocolate, processed foods, sugar-free sweeteners, garlic, onions, cauliflower, and broccoli.
By understanding which foods upset your digestive system the most, you can gain control over your symptoms by avoiding them whenever possible.
Get Enough Sleep – It’s no secret that getting a sufficient amount of sleep plays a significant role in maintaining an overall sense of well-being. Experts believe that not getting enough high-quality rest or sleep can contribute to IBS symptom flareups.
Seek Professional Help – If you suspect that you or a loved one may have IBS and the symptoms worsen when you’re feeling anxious or stressed out, speaking with your healthcare provider is definitely recommended.
Unfortunately, there is not currently a standard, definitive test to diagnose IBS. Your healthcare practitioner is likely to evaluate your medical history and conduct a physical examination to rule out the other possible existing conditions that could be affecting you, such as gluten intolerance, or food allergies, or sensitivities.
Talk It Out – When you’re feeling stressed out, anxious, or nervous, talking out your feelings can help to release some of the pent up emotions that could be contributing to IBS flareups and symptoms.
Many times, your friends and family can help to provide a different perspective to the situation you’re dealing with, or at the very least, lend an ear to help you air out your concerns.
Implementing good habits to treat IBS symptoms can help alleviate the pain and discomfort so that these symptoms don’t become more painful as they wear on.
Get The Help You Need To Feel Better
Undoubtedly, living with stomach pain and digestive discomfort is not living your best life.
For a long time mainstream treatment for anxiety has focused on prescription medications. The issue has been prescription drugs commonly prescribed to control anxiety have a sedative effect and can potentially become addictive.
As a result, many doctors and practitioners turn to alternative mind-body approaches, like Medical Hypnosis for anxiety as treatment in an attempt to limit the use of prescription medications. Medical hypnosis has proven to be very effective for controlling Anxiety and IBS.