Could Stress Be The Reason You're Constipated?

Constipation is one of the most common yet overlooked health concerns, affecting more than four million Americans. Its causes range from lifestyle factors to certain diseases and medications, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine. For example, people with a sedentary lifestyle, as well as those who don't eat enough fiber, are more likely to experience this condition. Aging, pregnancy, and digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may play a role, too.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some individuals become constipated when traveling. In such cases, constipation is due to changes in routine, which can cause psychological stress, gastroenterologist Vijaya Rao told On top of that, your body may need time to adapt to new foods and new time zones. "Anytime you leave your general habitat, it's throwing your gut microflora off-balance," said dietician Brooke Alpert in an interview with The Atlantic. She also points out that small but stressful things, like navigating an airport and packing your stuff, can affect bowel function.

With that being said, could there be a link between stress and constipation? And what can you do about it? 

Can stress cause constipation and digestive discomfort?

Mental stress and constipation go hand in hand — after all, the gut is called the "second brain" for a reason. A 2014 research paper published in Expert Review of Gastroenterology and Hepatology reports that stress affects the gut microbiome, causing changes in bowel habits. It also influences gastric motility, that is, the contraction of the muscles that help break down food. What's more, it impacts nutrient absorption and may trigger gut inflammation. Any of these factors can lead to constipation and digestive problems.

A 2009 study featured in the Journal of Tropical Pediatrics confirms these findings. Researchers investigated the effects of stress on nearly 2,700 children aged 10 to 16 and discovered that more than 15% had constipation. This problem was more common in those going through stressful life events, such as family problems. Scientists say that mental stress affects the brain-gut axis, which can affect bowel function and cause digestive symptoms.

On the positive side, there are ways to bring your gut back into balance. For starters, increase your water intake and fill up on fiber, recommends the Cleveland Clinic. Note, however, that fiber sometimes can make things worse. If you experience gas, bloating, and constipation after eating high-fiber foods, then it might be time to call your doctor. Meanwhile, commit to regular exercise to keep your bowels moving and relieve stress, suggests WebMD. Yoga, meditation, and social activities can help reduce stress, too, so you might want to give them a try.