Can Stress Cause IBS Flare-Ups?

If you have irritable bowel syndrome you may have noticed that flare-ups get worse when you are most stressed or anxious. 

In this blog post, I will be explaining the science behind why that happens for some people and why stress can indeed cause flare-ups through what is known as the gut and brain connection.

What Is IBS?

There are said to be 3-types of IBS that are diagnosed depending on the symptoms a person has but stress can trigger all types of IBS through the gut and brain connection.

  • IBS-C
  • IBS-D
  • IBS-M

Just as stress can trigger digestive symptoms it's also thought that irritation in the bowel may also worsen things like stress, anxiety, and depression.

It's easy to see this way how IBS can become a negative loop where IBS makes your stress worse and then that stress makes your IBS symptoms flare-up. I will be sharing some tips on how to get out of this loop later on.

What Is The Gut And Brain Axis?

The gut and brain connection is not some hypothetical pseudoscience theory and it has been well studied. This article from Hopkins Medicine has given credence to the connection between stress and gut health and explained how it works.

The gut and brain are connected via the enteric nervous system and through neurochemicals, the signals can be sent directly from the microbiome to the brain. As well as that, upwards of 90% of serotonin is produced via that and serotonin is responsible for feelings of happiness. 

4 Tips To Help With IBS Stress Flare Ups


Meditating In The Garden.

Now that we have confirmed stress can cause flare-ups we can follow some tips that help with the root cause. Here are some tips to help you deal with the stresses of life.

1) Meditation

According to this study, meditation can indeed help with symptoms of IBS. The study carried out by lead researcher Bruce Naliboff, Ph.D. from David Geffen School Of medicine recruited a total of 53 women and 15 men with IBS. He had them follow an MBSR class which is an 8-week course that involves daily meditation, yoga, and body awareness.

Amazingly at the end of the course, 71% of the participants reported improvement in their IBS symptoms with the mindfulness factor said to be the most beneficial predictor for GI symptom improvement. My advice would be to take 10-minutes out of your day to sit down and focus on your breathing. After your meal is an ideal time.

2) Eat Slower

In 2019 there was a scientific review on the effects of mindful eating could potentially improve Improve Gastrointestinal as well as Digestive Function. The review of all available studies found that mindful slower eating did improve digestion, promoted homeostasis, and triggered the stress response for optimal digestive function.

Mindful eating may sound complicated but it's simple to do and from my experience, it makes the food taste even better with the flavors more pronounced. Simply chew your food more than you normally would and keep any electronics away from the table. Another benefit is that your saliva contains digestive enzymes and this is released when you chew.

3) Yoga

Yoga with general movement hasn't been studied that in-depth so far with this review confirming that. The review claimed that "preliminary data support yoga as beneficial" and there was some evidence that yoga was safe for IBS and could potentially be used in the treatment of IBS. Some randomized trials went further in claiming that Yoga was more beneficial than pharmacological treatment and dietary intervention.

For me personally, Yoga did help with my IBS symptoms so much so that do this day I continue to include Yoga as part of my daily routine. For me, I like to do some Yoga before I go to sleep. I find that this allows me to get a deeper fuller sleep and helps to calm down my stomach and digest my food better. Make sure to take it slow to start with and be careful to not injure yourself, if you feel any pain stop immediately. 

4) Journalling

Whilst there are no studies that claim journalling can help with IBS there was one study that showed journaling can help with symptoms of anxiety so in a roundabout way it's possible this could also help with your IBS. The study showed decreased mental distress, anxiety, and depression after just 1-month of journalling.

Another reason I added journalling as a tip was because you can also use your writings to track your dietary decisions and find triggers for your IBS. I like to journal when I wake up first thing in the morning whilst I wait for my probiotic supplement to pass through my stomach. I find that often it helps me stay grateful and positive throughout the day.

Final Thoughts

This blog post has shown that the stress of life can cause IBS flare-ups through the vagus nerve that connects the gut & brain. IBS symptoms can then make you even more stressed. To get out of this loop you can follow the 4 tips I shared in this blog post.

Just remember that it takes time for change to happen in the digestive system and they should be followed alongside a healthy lifestyle. If you think you have IBS you should always consult with a doctor first. They may be able to recommend treatments like CBT therapy or suggest medications.

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