Can Stress Cause Diarrhea? IBS, Stress, & Poop

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Anxiety and stress are known to be significant factors in various digestive problems, including diarrhea. Addressing the underlying causes of your stress can empower you to better manage your gastrointestinal health.

Seeking medical advice or treatment for bathroom woes can be tough, even though most people know diarrhea is something that happens to many bodies.

More than half of all Americans have a bout of diarrhea in any given year, and those are just the reported cases. About 4 billion cases of diarrhea are reported each year globally. If you have diarrhea, you are not alone. You are not even in the minority!

Let’s discuss how you can know if stress and anxiety are triggering your diarrhea — and how to treat the root cause.

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How Does Stress Give You Diarrhea?

For many decades, scientists have known that stress (synonymous with anxiety, whether due to an anxiety disorder or concerns of daily life) is linked to diarrhea and other digestive conditions.

Fight-or-Flight Response

When you experience a stressful event, your body answers with a fight-or-flight response. Your heart rate rises, your muscles tense, your large intestine loosens, and you feel hyper-aware of your surroundings.

These symptoms of stress triggered by the fight or flight response are meant for temporary situations. Unfortunately, most Americans deal with chronic stress — those everyday stressors like deadlines, money, the news, family, medical problems, and major life changes.

The body’s response to stress triggers is great for short-term coping. But if your body continues to respond to stress every day, it can lead to some serious health conditions.

The Enteric Nervous System

Experiencing stress gives you diarrhea because your fight or flight response triggers the enteric nervous system, which regulates digestive function (among other things).

Your stomach, large and small intestine, and the rest of your gastrointestinal tract have their own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. This is like the brain in your gut. 

The enteric system is what regulates bowel movements (among other digestive functions) and it can be pushed to its limits by chronic stress.

The Gut-Brain Axis

The gut-brain axis serves as the vital connection between the central nervous system and the enteric nervous system, facilitating communication between emotional responses and essential bodily functions. 

These functions include heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure, and the intricate workings of the digestive system.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress induces cortisol production, which may negatively affect your gut bacteria and cause persistent diarrhea. This means mental wellness is important in fighting medical conditions. 

In fact, humans and animals who experience stress early in life may have chronic diarrhea later in life. Fortunately, there are simple ways to stop stress-related diarrhea.

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How Do I Know if My Diarrhea Is From Stress?

If stress is causing your diarrhea, you’ll likely experience some other effects of stress along with gastrointestinal discomfort.

Here are some symptoms of stress to look for:

  • Headaches
  • Neck tension
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Changes in libido

How to Stop Anxiety Diarrhea

Over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol, may relieve stomach problems. However, for the sake of your your overall wellness, we suggest simple dietary and lifestyle changes as your first line of defense.

Cutting out inflammatory foods and finding ways to relieve stress may cure your bowel disorders altogether.

Does anxiety cause diarrhea? Yes, stress and anxiety have a strong link to diarrhea. (Read below to learn more about the stress-IBS–IBD connection.)

On a side note, diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Any attempt to treat stress poop should include drinking a lot of fluids with electrolytes to alleviate the damage already done.

Diet Changes

It is unfortunate that many who deal with anxiety-related diarrhea never receive formal dietary advice from a healthcare professional. At PrimeHealth, we recommend patients dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (a common cause of diarrhea) go on the low-FODMAP diet.

The right diet can help improve your physical and mental health. Avoiding triggering foods can even prevent flare ups.

Many so-called “comfort foods” contain gluten and dairy, two of the most inflammatory foods you can consume. Roughly 68% of the world’s population are lactose intolerant — meaning these comfort foods might actually be the source of your abdominal discomfort.

Carbonated and caffeinated beverages also contribute to irritation in your digestive system. Carbonation can lead to bloating and caffeine stimulates the intestines.


When considering supplements for diarrhea, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine if they’re appropriate for your specific situation. 

These supplements may be helpful for stress-related diarrhea:

  • Psyllium husk: Psyllium husk supplements can add bulk to stool to firm it up and may help regulate bowel movements. It’s commonly used to treat chronic diarrhea. This is typically what you’ll find in a majority of fiber supplements.
  • L-Glutamine: L-Glutamine is an amino acid that can support gut health and may be beneficial for individuals with diarrhea caused by conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • Digestive enzymes: Some people with chronic diarrhea may benefit from digestive enzyme supplements, as they can assist in breaking down food more effectively.
  • Zinc: In cases of persistent diarrhea, zinc supplements may be helpful, especially in children, as zinc deficiency can exacerbate diarrhea.
  • Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal supplements may absorb excess gas and toxins, potentially alleviating certain types of diarrhea. However, they should be used sparingly and under medical supervision.

Gut Calming Teas

The right cup of medicinal tea might resolve your upset stomach and stress-induced diarrhea.

Teas to calm the gut include: 

  • Green tea: Green tea is a millenia-old remedy for diarrhea that boasts many other health benefits. Green tea can reduce symptoms of diarrhea in various situations.
  • Black tea: Black tea has been shown to improve digestive health. Animal studies show that black tea extract can also significantly reduce diarrhea.
  • Ginger tea: Ginger tea is another ancient cure-all. Ginger tea may be used to beat diarrhea, bloating, indigestion, abdominal pain, and so much more. Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory, which explains why it is so useful.
  • Fennel tea: Fennel tea may reduce diarrhea symptoms, as well as gas, bloating, stomachaches, and constipation. Fennel seems to fight E. coli infections, which can also lead to diarrhea.
  • Chamomile tea: Chamomile tea relaxes your digestive tract and relieves diarrhea, nausea, indigestion, vomiting, and gas. Animal studies reveal that chamomile is both antidiarrheal and an antioxidant.


Probiotics are live microorganisms that support the bacteria in your intestines. A balanced gut microbiome can promote healthier digestion and lower the impacts of stress on the body. 

The best probiotic strains for diarrhea are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. For best results, try a gluten-free brand with high colony-forming units (CFUs).

Stress Relief

Stress management is the most important factor in relieving stress- and anxiety-induced diarrhea.

Here are some easy stress-relieving tips that can stop anxiety diarrhea:

  • Regular exercise: Regular exercise relieves anxiety and stress, and can ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common cause of diarrhea. Exercise also regulates stress hormones and boosts confidence.
  • Essential oils: Aromatherapy with essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, bergamot, rose, and lemon balm facilitate relaxation and lower your daily stress.
  • Yoga: Yoga can be as effective as antidepressant medications when dealing with stress, depression, and promoting mental health.
  • Meditation: Meditation promotes a regulated nervous system and healthy mind-body connection. It is a powerful method of relieving stress and lowering anxiety.
  • Quality sleep: A full night’s sleep is an effective stress fighter. To get higher quality sleep, consider cutting out technology an hour before you go to bed because of blue light emissions.
  • Breathing exercises: Breathing exercises help to bring the body out of the fight or flight response and are a proven stress-relief technique.

How long does stress diarrhea last? Stress diarrhea should go away in under 2 days after the stress response resolves. However, if you experience persistent stress for several days, it can trigger continuous diarrhea.

Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, malabsorption, and malnutrition. Counterbalance this by making sure you drink plenty of fluids, in addition to consuming plenty of nutrients and electrolytes.

IBS, IBD, & Stress

Stress can exacerbate or even trigger gastrointestinal problems like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Those who deal with IBS or IBD are more susceptible to stress, and vice-versa. Up to ⅓ of those who receive treatment for IBS also deal with depression or anxiety.

Whenever you experience stressful situations, your digestive system may cramp, leading to diarrhea. In IBS patients, research shows that stress may trigger more powerful and fast-acting physical symptoms than normal.

How can you tell if your diarrhea is due to IBS or IBD? You can tell if your diarrhea is due to IBS or IBD by looking for the presence of other symptoms.

Other IBS symptoms include:

  • Excess gas
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Constipation

One in 10 people in the world deals with IBS.

Other IBD symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Bloody stool
  • Mucous in stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

Other Than Anxiety, What Else Might Be Causing Your Diarrhea?

Other causes of diarrhea may include:

  • Food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances (for example, lactose intolerance or celiac disease)
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Food poisoning or other infection
  • Eating foods that upset your stomach
  • Surgery on a part of your digestive system
  • Medication side effects
  • Laxative overuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, other intestinal diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer or radiation therapy
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

When to Seek Help

If you notice physical signs of IBS or IBD alongside your diarrhea, discuss these symptoms with your doctor to get at the root of your digestive issues.

It’s time to see your gastroenterologist or other healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Diarrhea that lasts longer than 2 days
  • Fever
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • Little or no urination
  • Severe weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Blood in stool
  • Treatment doesn’t work for your stress or diarrhea

If you have a compromised immune system, as with a chronic infection like SIBO or parasites, you will likely experience chronic diarrhea

Remember, diarrhea is nothing to be embarrassed about. Most people deal with it at least once a year. You’re not alone.

At PrimeHealth, we deliver results you will not find in a conventional hospital or clinic setting, and we empower patients to take an active part in their own healing.

Denver, CO residents: If chronic diarrhea is getting in the way of your work, personal, or mental life, PrimeHealth is here to help. Schedule a free consultation!


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