Stress, Anxiety and IBS-- is there a link

Stress, Anxiety and IBS-- is there a link

Have you been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), followed all the dietary advice, taken the appropriate probiotic and other advice that is offered, and you still find that your symptoms are still a problem? If you answered yeas or are nodding your head at this point then you may like to consider that your stress levels, anxiety and even depression maybe a significant factor in your IBS.

Research is now confirming that the nervous system, our response to stress and even our personality can be a predisposing factor in IBS symptoms.

As a naturopath I see many IBS clients and I can definitely see a correlation with how much stress someone is experiencing presently, but also what they have experienced in the past and their IBS symptoms.

Just to give you an idea on how much of an impact stress can have on our digestive function and the bowel, just think about a time when you were fearful, had a fright or felt anxious about doing something for the first time. Most of us feel it in the gut we often feel nauseated, and get the sudden urge to have a bowel motion. This is very normal and will settle once the stress has passed. The correlation between our nervous system, how we think and perceive things and our digestive system is extremely close and each effect the other very intricately.

How Does Stress effect My Gut

Firstly it's important to remember that not all IBS cases are linked to stress, having said that I believe that our emotions do play a considerable role as a contributing factor in IBS and needs to be addressed in a holistic approach to managing IBS.

Even though research is identifying the relationship with stress, anxiety the directional relationship is still not clearly understood. There are several theories and I would like to highlight two theories that explain this association.

Gut Overload Theory.

This theory states that there is an information overload in the gut. In a healthy gut, there is a lot of information being gathered, from every food particle you eat , is safe, toxic, an allergy , how to digest it just to name a few, there are many many more !! A significant amount of this information is gathered at an unconscious level and is then relayed to the brain via our nervous system linked to the gut. This information effects our neurotransmitters both in the gut and brain. These are closely linked to our thoughts, our immune system as well as our digestive system, and when out of balance can have significant influence on digestive function. This information overload can be a trigger for IBS symptoms, especially gas and bloating, and particularly when physical and emotional stress is in excess.

The IBS Type.

The IBS Type theory is suggesting that the onset of IBS is often linked to a particular stressful event or period in your life when those neurotransmitters were severely thrown off balance allowing the digestive system to be hypersensitive. This means that you become extremely sensitive to even very mild stimuli. Pain is a significant part of the picture, and particularly to increased gas production.

Taking this a bit further than just stressful events in our lives, there is suggestion that there may be personality types prone to IBS. Particular types are those that strive for perfectionism, are self sacrificing and always helping others or constantly need to be good people. Low self esteem as also been linked with IBS.

Where To Turn For Help.

With gut disorders, natural healthcare practitioners such as a naturopath are ideally placed to help you achieve significant relief from these symptoms. Much of our teachings have been based around the fact that the gut is the seat of good health. In my practice the gut is always my priority. With all IBS clients it is important to identify your main triggers such as food sensitivities, dysbiosis, leaky gut and of yes your stress levels.

When addressing this part of your symptoms, it will be important to support the nervous system with appropriate nutrients and herbs. Nutrients such as magnesium and B Vitamins can relax the smooth muscle in the bowel and nurture your nervous system in general. Specific herbs like chamomile, ginger, passionflower are also very calming to the digestive system.

In respect to psychological therapies, cognitive therapy, mind-body therapies, and mindfulness are all focused on identifying thoughts and behaviours that effect the gastrointestinal system and how in turn the gastrointestinal system effects our moods. It equips us with coping techniques to manage these unhelpful thoughts and behaviours with the goal of reducing IBS symptoms. For example, when you breathe deeply or use calming self-talk to quell anxiety, you send a message to the body that there is no crisis. This reduces the effects of the body's natural stress response on your digestive system, helping to reduce the symptoms. Deep breathes are also effective in reducing pain.

4 Tips To Help Manage Anxiety Related IBS Symptoms

  • Remain calm in the face of early symptoms. Try different coping techniques until you find what is most effective for you.

  • Keep a symptom diary. This can help you identify possible patterns related to your attacks. For example, if you know you’re more likely to experience attacks in the morning, you can plan your day accordingly (e.g., ensuring you know where the nearest restroom is).

  • Practice regular stress management activities.

  • Be wise about what you eat. It’s important to be aware of dietary sensitivities that may trigger an attack. Common trigger foods include dairy, gluten, and caffeine. Know your triggers, and avoid or reduce your intake accordingly.

While the relationship between stress and gastrointestinal issues is still unclear, understanding how stress affects you can help you be prepared by developing a variety of coping strategies.

If you would like more information regarding your IBS symptoms you can call Naturally Dynamic Health on 0260120557 to chat to our qualified naturopaths.