Stress is a major issue for many with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Fear of leaving the house or finding a bathroom in time or having an embarrassing accident in public can be debilitating and stressful.

Stress can be understood as anything that can stimulate the GI tract, including:

  • Diet
  • Hormonal changes
  • Physical activity
  • Psychological stress

Stress can be acute (short term) or chronic (long-acting, more than three months). It can range from daily hassles to life-threatening events. Also, it has been shown to increase motility and sensation of the colon to a greater degree in IBS patients compared to healthy individuals without IBS.

What if you could change how you feel about stress? There are multiple scientific studies which prove that stress isn’t always a bad thing. These studies confirm that the way one thinks about stress affects how your body reacts to it. You respond to any threat, whether psychological or physical, by releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones into your system.

How do these hormones affect your body?
  • Cortisol: Helps control blood levels, regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, control blood pressure and increases your memory. It is a crucial hormone in protecting your overall health and -well-being. 
  • Adrenaline: Increases your heart rate and blood pressure, expands the air passages in your lungs, sends blood to your muscles, and changes your bodies metabolism. 

With a chronic illness like IBS, your body may be in a constant state of stress. Studies show that stress is not always to be avoided, it can make you smarter, stronger, and more successful.  Just by changing your mindset about stress can make you happier and healthier.  

Handling stress is the key and it is important to alter your mindset about it. 

Here are some tips to help you respond to stress in a positive way
  1. Try Journaling- It is a simple technique, the health benefits of which have been scientifically proven.  Journaling can help
      • reduce digestive issues associated with IBS,
      • decrease symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and other health conditions,
      • improve cognitive functioning,
      • and strengthen immune system response 
  2. Try some breathing techniques

Addressing stressors that may be associated with IBS symptoms is the first step in understanding the relationship between stress and IBS. People suffering from IBS should work with their health care providers in developing a management plan to address these issues effectively, when present, in order to decrease symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.

Note: Opinions expressed are an author’s own and not necessarily those of the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). IFFGD does not guarantee or endorse any product in this publication or any claim made by an author and disclaims all liability relating thereto. This article is in no way intended to replace the knowledge or diagnosis of your healthcare provider. We advise seeing a physician whenever a health problem arises requiring an expert’s care.

Adapted from IFFGD Publication #277 “Got Stress” By: Evon Stone Rubsenstein, C-IAYT and Adapted from IFFGD Publication #101 “IBS Brochure” By: Douglas Drossman MD

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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

Our original content is authored specifically for IFFGD readers, in response to your questions and concerns.

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