Why You Have To Poop When You Feel Anxious

Sweating, fidgeting, tightness in the chest, and an accelerated heart rate are all common things we may experience in the moments our body becomes flooded with anxiety. Sometimes, however, our body can respond to feelings of anxiety in other ways that might seem a little more peculiar or unexpected.

If you've ever felt anxious, only to then suddenly find yourself making a beeline for the bathroom, this isn't actually so unusual. In fact, according to experts at the Cleveland Clinic, there's a name for this occurrence: anxiety poops. And no, this is not the same as poop anxiety, in which a person experiences anxiety over going #2 in a public restroom (via HealthMatch). "It is a normal response to a nervous reaction," gastroenterologist Dr. Sameer Islam told Men's Health. "Whether it's your anxiety, or speaking in front of a large group, it's a very common problem that occurs." Phew! So now that we know we're not alone, what's the explanation for a bout of anxiety followed by an urgent bowel movement?

The link between our brain and gastrointestinal tract

A 2020 study published in the European Journal of Sport Science analyzed whether anxiety influenced the likelihood of experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms in more than 180 endurance athletes. Research findings showed that participants who experienced greater anxiety — particularly in the hours prior to a race — were more susceptible to gastrointestinal distress.

Experts say this is because our brain and our gut go hand in hand with one another. When you feel anxious, the brain releases a series of stress hormones, including adrenaline, serotonin, and cortisol. In turn, this can kick-start your gastrointestinal tract. "It stimulates the intestines, creating waves of contractions in the colon," gastroenterologist Dr. Christine Lee tells the Cleveland Clinic. However, Dr. Lee explains that anxiety poop tends to hit not during this heightened state of stress, but rather, as that wave of anxiety begins to fall. As the body relaxes, we start to release all that we were holding onto so tightly, including waste.

How to keep anxiety poops at bay

When it comes to relief from anxiety poops, you'll want to take a two-part approach. In essence, you'll want to focus on boosting both your mental and gastrointestinal health. Starting with your mental health, make time for self-care. This can include engaging in creative hobbies, such as cooking, sewing, or drawing. Others may benefit from journaling, meditation, or snuggling a beloved pet. Exercise is also key. By working to keep our stress levels at a minimum, we can decrease the amount of stress hormones released by the body, explains Healthline. In turn, this can help reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal discomfort.

Alternatively, try to steer clear of foods that may further fuel anxiety poops. This includes soda, coffee, spicy foods, alcohol, and sugary treats. Instead, stick with soothing chamomile teas, oats, quinoa, foods containing probiotics like Greek yogurt, and leafy-green veggies like kale. While anxiety can certainly provoke the need to poop, be sure to consult with your physician to rule out any other alternate health conditions.