Bowel symptoms and problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), abdominal cramps, and others can be signs of anxiety disorder.
This article explains the relationship between anxiety and bowel problems and symptoms.
The higher the rating, the more likely anxiety could be contributing to your symptoms, including bowel symptoms and problems.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Loose stools
- Intestinal pain
- Stomach cramps
- Loss of appetite
- Unnatural hunger
- Peptic ulcers
- Bowel movement problems
- Bowel obstruction
- Bowel pain
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal distress, pain, pressure, fullness, discomfort
- Abdominal fullness
- Abdominal radiating pains
- Abdominal shooting pains
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Gas cramps
- Gastrointestinal problems, symptoms
- Gastrointestinal upset
- Gut-Brain connection
- Intestinal clamping
- Intestinal cramping
- Intestinal fullness and pressure
- Intestinal rumbling, growling, gurgling, and other sounds and feelings
- Slow transit time
- Warm sensation in the stomach
Bowel anxiety symptoms can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist 24/7 day after day. For example, you have bowel problems once in a while and not that often, have them off and on, or have problems with your bowels all the time and every day.
Bowel problems can precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.
They can also precede, accompany, or follow a period of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and stress, or occur "out of the blue" and for no apparent reason.
Bowel anxiety symptoms can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. They can also come in waves where they are strong one moment and ease off the next.
Bowel anxiety symptoms can change from day to day, moment to moment, or remain as a constant background to your struggle with anxiety disorder.
All of the above combinations and variations are common.
Bowel problems can seem more disconcerting when undistracted, resting, doing deep relaxation, or when trying to go to sleep or when waking up.
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Yes, anxiety can cause many gastrointestinal problems, such as the bowel problems and symptoms we mentioned.
Here are a few of the most common reasons why:
1. The stress response
Anxious behavior activates the stress response, which causes many body-wide changes that give the body an emergency “boost” of energy and resources when danger is detected.
This survival reaction is often referred to as the fight or flight response, the emergency response, the fight, flight, or freeze response (some people freeze when they are afraid like a “deer caught in headlights”), or the fight, flight, freeze, or faint response (since some people faint when they are afraid).
Visit our “Stress Response” article for more information about the stress response and the many changes it causes.
This connection is often referred to as the gut-brain axis.
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional link between the central nervous system (CNS) and the enteric nervous system (ENS), which acts as the gut’s nervous system.
The ENS is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system, which helps regulate gastrointestinal (GI) tract processing.
The gut-brain axis works in both directions, with the brain affecting the gut and the gut affecting our thoughts and emotions.
Some of these emergency changes include:
- Shunts blood away from the stomach and digestive system to other parts of the body more vital for fighting or fleeing.
- The stomach and upper digestive tract stop producing digestive enzymes.
- The lower digestive tract tries to eliminate waste as quickly as possible.
- Stomach muscles tighten.
- Saliva production is suppressed.
Any one or combination of these changes can cause digestive and bowel problems.
Many anxious people experience digestive and bowel symptoms due to their anxiety.
When stress responses occur infrequently, the body can recover relatively quickly from the physiological, psychological, and emotional changes the stress response brings about.
When stress responses occur too frequently, however, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, the body can’t complete its recovery. Incomplete recovery can cause the body to remain in a state of semi stress response readiness, which we call “stress-response hyperstimulation” since stress hormones are stimulants.
Hyperstimulation is also often referred to as “hyperarousal,” “HPA axis dysfunction,” or “nervous system dysregulation.”
Visit our “Stress-response Hyperstimulation” article for more information about how hyperstimulation can affect the body.
Hyperstimulation can cause the changes of an active stress response even though a stress response hasn’t been activated. Consequently, the above emergency response changes can become chronic, which can cause chronic bowel problems and symptoms.
Chronic digestive problems are common indications of hyperstimulation.
Moreover, chronic digestive problems can alter the gut flora, which can also cause many digestive and intestinal symptoms, including any and all of the symptoms we mentioned above.
3. Other factors
There are other factors related to anxiety that can cause and contribute to bowel anxiety symptoms, including:
- Recreational drugs
- Sleep deprivation
- Hyper and hypoventilation
- Low blood sugar
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Hormones And Hormonal Changes
Select the relevant link for more information.
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When bowel problems and symptoms are caused by other factors, addressing the cause should alleviate the problems and symptoms.
When bowel anxiety problems and symptoms are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, as the anxious and stress response changes come to an end, this anxiety symptom should subside.
Keep in mind, it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. This is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
When this bowel problems and symptoms are caused by hyperstimulation, such as from overly apprehensive behavior, it can take much longer for the body to recover, and to the point where this anxiety symptom subsides.
Furthermore, it’s common for hyperstimulation to cause multiple types of digestive problems, such as irritation, inflammation, leaky gut, and out of balance digestive flora, to name a few.
It’s also common for hyperstimulation to cause persistent digestive problems and symptoms, such as those mentioned above, even long after hyperstimulation has been eliminated. Once the digestive problems get rolling, they can become compounded, and then stubborn to resolve.
Reducing stress, increasing rest, getting regular good sleep, regular deep relaxation, regular mild to moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet, and containing anxious behavior can help reduce and eventually eliminate hyperstimulation and its symptoms, including bowel anxiety symptoms.
As the body recovers from hyperstimulation, symptoms of hyperstimulation subside, including bowel symptoms.
Bowel problems and symptoms are common indications of anxiety and hyperstimulation. Instead of worrying about them, or worse resisting and fighting them, passively accepting this symptom in the short-term can reduce its impact in time.
Since worrying and distressing about anxiety symptoms is anxious behavior, which creates anxiety and its symptoms, these type of behaviors can prolong anxiety symptoms rather than eliminate them.
If you’d like more information about how to eliminate anxiety symptoms, including stomach and bowel anxiety symptoms, the Recovery Support area of our website has a great deal of in-depth self-help information.
We explain important recovery concepts, such as containment, passive acceptance, the challenges of eliminating hyperstimulation and its symptoms, how to extinguish fears, how to overcome stubborn symptoms and fears, how to overcome panic disorder, how to overcome a fear of anxiety, how to deal with anxiety sleep-related problems, and a host of other important anxiety disorder recovery tips and strategies.
The number one reason why anxiety disorder and its symptoms persist is unidentified and unaddressed underlying factors that cause issues with anxiety.
Dealing with your underlying factors, which we call Level Two recovery, is the most important work overall if you want to gain lasting success over anxiety disorder.
If you are having difficulty containing, eliminating your symptoms, overcoming your anxiety issues, overcoming a fear of anxiety and its strong feelings, or have what seems like out-of-control worry, consider connecting with one of our recommended anxiety disorder therapists.
All of our recommended therapists have personally had anxiety disorder and have overcome it. Their personal experience with anxiety disorder combined with their Masters Degree level and above professional training makes them a good choice when wanting to achieve lasting success over anxiety disorder, its symptoms, and worry.
Working with a therapist is the most effective way to overcome anxiety disorder.
Anxiety- and stress-related digestive problems are often caused by the underproduction of gastric acid rather than its overproduction.
If you are experiencing stomach and digestive problems, you might find it helpful to work with a Nutritional Science Practitioner, such as Liliana Tosic. She can help you get a proper diagnosis, and then, help you get your stomach and digestive system back on track.
Sometimes nutritional factors can be at play once the stomach and digestive system have become irritated. A professional can help you work through your stomach and digestive issues so that your digestive system has a better chance of returning to normal functioning sooner rather than later.
I wish that option were available to me during my recovery. I’m sure it would have made a difference in the elimination of my stomach and digestive system problems, which I suffered with greatly during my struggle with anxiety disorder.
Many of those who have worked with Liliana Tosic have commented on how helpful she was to their stomach and digestive system recovery.
Common Anxiety Symptoms
- For a comprehensive list of Anxiety Disorders Symptoms Signs, Types, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.
- Anxiety and panic attacks symptoms can be powerful experiences. Find out what they are and how to stop them.
- How to stop an anxiety attack and panic.
- Free online anxiety tests to screen for anxiety. Two minute tests with instant results. Such as:
- Anxiety 101 is a summarized description of anxiety, anxiety disorder, and how to overcome it.
Return to our anxiety disorders signs and symptoms page.
anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Bowel Anxiety Symptoms Problems.
1. Folk, Jim. “The Stress Response.” Anxiety Attacks, Anxietycentre.com, 2020, https://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-disorders/symptoms/stress-response/.
2. "Understanding the Stress Response - Harvard Health." Harvard Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 May 2016.
3. Elbers, Jorina, et al. "Wired for Threat: Clinical Features of Nervous System Dysregulation in 80 Children." Pediatric Neurology, Dec 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887899418302716
4. Teixeira, Renata Roland, et al. “Chronic Stress Induces a Hyporeactivity of the Autonomic Nervous System in Response to Acute Mental Stressor and Impairs Cognitive Performance in Business Executives.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4373764/.
5. Hofmann, Stefan G., et al. “The Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Review of Meta-Analyses.” Cognitive Therapy and Research, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Oct. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3584580/.
6. Leichsenring, Falk. “Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy the Gold Standard for Psychotherapy?” JAMA, American Medical Association, 10 Oct. 2017, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2654783.
7. DISCLAIMER: Because each body is somewhat chemically unique, and because each person will have a unique mix of symptoms and underlying factors, recovery results may vary. Variances can occur for many reasons, including due to the severity of the condition, the ability of the person to apply the recovery concepts, and the commitment to making behavioral change.