Do you ever get the feeling of suddenly needing to go to the bathroom when you hear bad news? Or maybe before an exam or a big presentation at work?
If the answer is yes, you might be experiencing anxiety poop. Anxiety poop affects more of us than you might think.
Anxiety-producing events can trigger digestive issues, including diarrhea, constipation and nausea. This is because your gut and your brain are linked. Anxiety poop is your body’s reaction to extreme stress.
Here are the steps you can take to soothe your stomach and get your anxiety poop under control.
Research indicates that high stress situations can upset the digestive system, triggering diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain.
Triggers vary from person to person, but the body’s response is linked to the gut-brain axis.
Maya Eid is a clinical and holistic nutritionist who knows a thing or two about poop.
The gut responds to these hormones by producing physical symptoms, like watery stools, nausea, or constipation.
Serotonin is especially important when we’re talking about anxiety poop.
“Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and a hormone involved in the peristaltic reflex (moving food through the gastrointestinal tract),” Eid says. “During heightened anxiety, the amount of serotonin increases in your gut and can cause spasms to happen throughout your entire colon.”
These spasms are enough to produce unexpected bowel movements.
In addition to stress hormones, anxiety poop may also be linked to your nervous system.
This is especially true when it comes to the vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body. The vagus nerve carries an extensive range of signals from digestive system and organs to the brain and vice versa.
If you’re experiencing anxiety-induced poop, there are some things you can do to help reduce the effects of anxiety on your digestive system.
Try adjusting your diet to favor gentler foods, and avoid foods that irritate your gut.
Add these foods
To help soothe your stomach and calm anxiety, you might find it helpful to add more of these foods to your diet:
- gluten-free grains, like buckwheat, oats, and quinoa
- brassicas, like broccoli and kale
- olive oil
- probiotic-rich foods, like Greek yogurt, kefir, and fermented foods (for example: sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso)
- caffeine-free teas, like
chamomile, peppermint, and turmeric
A 2017 study found that following a gluten-free, plant-based diet combined with daily exercise and mindfulness techniques, helped improve depression and anxiety among the majority of participants. The study also required participants to cut out caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar.
Avoid these things
To help combat the effects of anxiety on your digestive system, you may also want to try limiting some common inflammatory foods and drinks.
According to Eid, anyone who experiences anxiety poop should consider limiting their intake of:
- soda and sugary drinks
- spicy food
- refined carbohydrates
- processed foods
- foods that are high in sugar
These foods can all
Eid recommends drinking water with added electrolytes to help replace the minerals that can get depleted during periods of high stress. These are essential minerals, like sodium and potassium, that can only be obtained through foods and beverages.
You can lose electrolytes from excessive sweating or diarrhea, but you can replace them through water-rich fruits and veggies, like cucumber, tomato, and peaches, as well as supplemented beverages.
Try these techniques to get started with mindful eating.
Create a soothing environment
When you are about to eat, try to make your surrounding environment as calming as possible.
It’s a good idea to remove electronic devices from the table. You can even put your phone in another room. Try clearing your table of any items that aren’t related to eating. This is especially important if you’re working from home.
You might like to light a candle or use plates and utensils that are special to you. You can even decorate your table with flowers. The idea is to create a soothing environment, helping to lower your anxiety levels and make your mealtime a peaceful ritual.
When you eat slowly and chew your food carefully, it helps break down food and make it easier to digest. Chewing more also helps you to focus on the food you’re eating and create a feeling of calm.
The mindful eating review above suggests chewing each mouthful around 30 times, taking deep breaths between bites and putting your knife and fork down while you chew.
You can try meditating before meals to calm the nervous system and prepare for eating.
Engage your senses
Taking the time to taste your food is an important part of mindful eating practice. It can help stimulate the secretion of saliva, making it easier to digest your food.
It can also help you appreciate your food more, increase a sense of gratitude, and lower anxiety levels.
Try sucking on a fresh lemon to appreciate the sourness, or let a piece of dark chocolate melt in your mouth to notice the bitterness and the way the flavor slowly emerges.
If you’re experiencing severe digestive problems, avoid sour, spicy, caffeinated, or sugary foods. Instead, try using this technique with an herbal tea or infusion.
Eid suggests trying other mindfulness activities to lower your body’s stress hormones. This includes:
- moderate exercise
- creative activities, like baking, painting, or knitting
- morning mantras
- cuddling an animal
- music therapy
- taking a warm bath with Epsom salts
Try to prioritize activities that make you feel calm and relaxed, especially if you find that you experience anxiety poop regularly.
Anxiety poop may also be linked to an underlying condition, Eid says.
Warning signs to look out for include:
- blood in your stool
- black, tar-colored stool
- pale colored, very foul-smelling, floating stool
- unexplained weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, seek advice from a medical professional.
Anxiety poop is a common response to high stress situations. The good news is it can be managed through mindfulness techniques and changes to your diet.
If you have persistent diarrhea or constipation, it’s a good idea to seek expert help. It may be a sign of IBS or another serious condition.
Elizabeth Harris is a writer and editor with a focus on plants, people, and our interactions with the natural world. She’s been happy to call many places home and has traveled across the world, collecting recipes and regional remedies. She now splits her time between the United Kingdom and Budapest, Hungary, writing, cooking, and eating. Learn more on her website.