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Stress and constipation blog post

Is your constipation stress-related? Stress is a common, yet less frequently talked about, cause of constipation. The goal is to treat the constipation and the stress.

When I was in college, my suite-mates put a book on the back of the toilet titled, Everybody Poops. Why? Because I was so uncomfortable talking about it. 

Now I basically talk about poop for a living 🙂

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Bowel movements  are one of the cornerstones of health. 

I don't know about you, but when I'm super constipated and gassy, it impacts every area of my life. My clothes fit differently, I'm distracted by the pain (read: irritable), and I'm afraid to eat because it might make it worse. Constipation leaves me feeling at odds with my body. That is why it’s important we talk about getting your gut back in action.

I've had more people than ever come to me with questions about constipation, gas and bloating over the past 8 months (i.e. since the pandemic started). And it's really no surprise. 

The culprit: stress!

How is constipation related to stress?

Your body is not designed to have the GI tract flowing with ease when it is in fight or flight mode. Just imagine - if you were running from a tiger, the LAST thing you would want to do is stop for a poo, amiright? The thing is, most of us are living day to day with our nervous system on high alert. And when your nervous system is on high alert, gut function slows way down. 

Slow GI tract leads to constipation and the constipation can cause further stress, which can lead to… you guessed it! More constipation.

Which is why I'm currently calling IBS Irritated By STRESS!

Treating stress-related constipation

If things are moving through your gut in slow-mo, dietary interventions may not help and in fact, may actually cause more gas and pain. For example - if you are constipated due to slow movement and you add in a bunch of fiber; that fiber will just sit in your gut, inviting bacteria to feast on it, therefore, causing more gas and bloating. Not what we hoped for at all!

So, while motility-related interventions may be helpful (here's lookin' at YOU water and probiotics), the best approach to treating stress-related constipation is to treat the underlying cause: stress. After all, if you treat the symptom but not the cause, you will likely end up right back where you started.

Managing stress for healthy GI function

Good news: Stress management is where I reallllly come in handy 🙂

Here are 6 exercises to calm your nervous system and promote better GI function:

1. Meditate

A great way to calm your nerves and connect with your stressful thoughts is by meditating. It can be a beautiful way to bring ease and stillness into your body.

2. Breathe!

Relax your abdomen and take deep breaths. Focus on making the outbreath longer than the inbreath. This signals to the brain that it is OK to relax and release stress because when you are in a state of fight or flight, breathing is shallow and outbreaths are shorter. You can override this safety feature and when you intentionally take a longer out-breath, it lets the brain know you are not, in fact, being chased by a lion.

Try inhaling deeply for a count of 3 and exhaling for a count of 5, releasing all of the air from your abdomen.

3. Move your body

Movement is a great way to complete the emotional response to stress. It expends energy and moves the stress energy out of the body so you can return to baseline. Movement is also good for motility, so you get the side benefit of increasing GI activity. Yea! 

4. Use your imagination

I love to take my clients through a visualization meditation with the intention of where attention goes, energy flows. When you put the focus on your GI tract moving smoothly and fully, you are more likely to make that happen.

5. Journal it out

Get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper to help you release stressful thoughts. It’s important to bring awareness to stressful thoughts if you want to release them. Pen to paper is a great way to get thoughts out of your head so you can evaluate them in a way that serves you. 

6. Take a warm bath

Warm water can help stimulate relaxation and grounding. Finding that peace and ease in the water can help you release stress and relax the GI tract. 

Break free

Stress and constipation will keep hanging out together in a vicious cycle. Break free from that cycle with these tips so you can feel your best and keep your energy up as we continue to make our way through this pandemic.

And check out my post: Emotional Eating In A Nutshell for great info on how and why stress can affect our food choices, which is another way stress can lead to constipation. 

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