Can stress and anxiety lead to abdominal pain or discomfort? (Irritable bowel syndrome)

  • 21 months ago
3 minute read.
Can stress and anxiety lead to abdominal pain or discomfort? (Irritable bowel syndrome)

What is IBS or irritable bowel syndrome? Are anxiety and stress related to IBS? If yes, how? If these questions are eating up your mind, this blog can help. Here we'll answer all your questions in detail about what IBS is and whether or not it's related to stress and anxiety.

In the end, you'll also find some therapies or coping techniques to manage the above issues. If you're curious about the answers, read along.

What is IBS?

IBS or irritable bowel syndrome is a colon disorder. Common symptoms are abdominal pain, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and cramping.

The symptoms may indicate other disorders as well, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. And this is something that makes the diagnosis of this disorder pretty hard. So, it's recommended that you reach out to your doctor and get a diagnosis done, if you experience these symptoms.

Can stress and anxiety trigger IBS? If yes, how?

The Gut-brain axis connects your brain and your gastrointestinal symptoms. It simply implies that whenever your nervous system feels stress/anxiety, it affects your gastrointestinal tract. And vice versa is also true.

Have you experienced an upset stomach in stressful situations like interviews, stage performances, exams, etc.? This happens because when you enter a stressful situation, your brain sends a signal to your gut that leads to an upset stomach and absurd stomach movements.

According to a study, 30% of the examined IBS patients reported depression as compared to the 18% individuals belonging to the general population. In another study, 84% of IBS patients reported depression, and 44% reported anxiety.

All this proves one thing that IBS and anxiety/stress go hand in hand. However, it's hard to prove whether IBS causes stress or stress/anxiety leads to IBS. IBS triggers may vary from person to other. You can think of IBS and stress/anxiety as the egg and chicken conundrum.

However, if you're suffering from IBS, how can you deal with it? Well, read along to find out.

How to manage irritable bowel syndrome?

There are several techniques/ways using which you can manage or treat the symptoms of IBS. Let's start with some common lifestyle changes:

  • Make sure to increase the consumption of fiber-rich food. It'll help regulate bowel movements.
  • Keep an eye on every food item that you consume. This will help you determine which food triggers IBS.
  • Make a habit of consuming small meals. This way, you can prevent gas and bloat.
  • Consume an adequate amount (1-2L) of water each day. This will also help regulate bowel movement.
  • Start Exercising. Physical workouts can help you relieve stress and relieve symptoms of IBS.
  • Start Meditation/Yoga. Both these techniques have been known to ease stress and anxiety.

Here are some effective therapies that can help with irritable bowel syndrome:


In some cases, Adverse Childhood Experiences such as abuse, violent family behavior can lead to IBS. In such conditions, normal lifestyle changes won't be helpful.

Fortunately, psychotherapy can help. Psychotherapy is professional counseling wherein an expert helps you deal with emotional stress, depression, and anxiety. These treatments have been quite helpful for individuals with ACEs.

However, make sure to reach out to an expert psychotherapy practitioner for the best results.

Relaxation Techniques:

Common relaxation techniques can prove to be really helpful. The IFFGD recommends abdominal/diaphragmatic and deep breathing for easing IBS. There's a muscle relaxation (progressive) technique wherein specific muscles are contracted and then relaxed.

Another technique that might help is positive imagery. In this relaxation technique, you are told to imagine a peaceful situation. This helps ease your anxiety and stress.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

Presently, experts aren't aware of what makes anxiety trigger abdominal discomfort, pain, and constatation. However, if one effectively manages emotional reactions, the symptoms can be eased. And this is what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT helps people achieve.

CBT helps individuals identify the behaviors and thoughts that affect the GI system and understand how such behaviors affect their mood. With CBT, individuals can learn coping techniques to manage these unnecessary emotions or thoughts.

Wrapping Up

Emotional stress or anxiety directly affects your gut health. No wonder why you feel like using the washroom whenever a stressful situation arrives. And this, in turn, can trigger or sometimes worsen the symptoms of IBS.

However, there isn't any solid research saying that one thing leads to the other. So, claiming that IBS causes anxiety or anxiety/stress leads to IBS would be wrong. One thing that's definite is both IBS and stress/anxiety go hand in hand.

And, you can treat both these issues by following some lifestyle changes or by opting for some therapies. You can also go for some prescribed medications, but consulting a doctor would be best in this case.

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