You’re not alone if anxiety poop has got your stomach in knots. Many folks experience a need to poop when anxious because of the connection between the brain and digestive tract.
Anxiety and other mental health concerns don’t just make you nervous or affect your mood. They affect your physical self and can cause gastrointestinal issues (GI) including diarrhea and constipation. You may also experience general stomach upset, like nausea.
The brain and stomach share a connection, which means when your anxiety gets triggered, you may also experience a sudden, strong urge to poop.
While researchers do not understand the brain-gut axis well yet, they do know that stress triggers can cause a reaction in the GI tract. In some cases, this may be an urgent need to poop.
The reaction is not limited to only people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or other forms of anxiety disorders. Almost anyone can experience GI-related symptoms due to a stressful event or anxiety.
For example, in a 2020 study, researchers looked at over 100 different elite runners. They found that increased levels of anxiety on the morning or day of a race led to more GI distress, including:
- regurgitation or reflux
In other words, you can experience an intense need to poop or other GI symptoms when you’re stressed or anxious.
Is diarrhea a symptom of anxiety?
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) says that when you’re anxious, your body releases certain chemicals and hormones. These may enter your digestive tract and disrupt the gut flora, which can cause an imbalance that can lead to diarrhea.
Stress may also exacerbate GI symptoms in people already living with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
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While you may experience GI symptoms related to anxiety, some people experience anxiety about pooping.
In a 2018 study, researchers explored the nature of bowel anxiety. They noted that some researchers see it as a variant of agoraphobia. They argue that the anxiety related to pooping results from fearing going to places that may not have a toilet.
Regardless of the underlying cause, they also stated that if you experience bowel anxiety, you may have considerable distress related to pooping and problems actually pooping.
Finally, they noted that this type of anxiety often goes unrecognized. Your doctor may misdiagnose you with IBS.
If you do experience anxiety related to pooping, a doctor may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants to help alleviate your symptoms.
You may or may not need formal treatment if anxiety causes you urges to use the bathroom. Instead, you might find that you can take proactive steps to help manage your anxiety.
Know before you go
If having to poop before new or important situations is typical for you, it can save you time and angst to carve out extra prep time to try and have a movement ahead of your anticipated event or situation.
Practice relaxation techniques
If you find that certain events, like races or presentations, make you anxious, you may find that taking the time to relax may help. Relaxation can include anything from deep-breathing exercises or taking a short walk before a stressful event.
If you have GAD or another form of anxiety, you may want to discuss your GI symptoms with a doctor or therapist.
They may recommend changes to any medications or other therapies to help you treat your anxiety better. In some cases, adjustments to treatment may be enough to help prevent GI upset.
Exercise can help keep you calm overall. It can provide a variety of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and helping you stay and feel calmer. If you find you become anxious a lot and it affects your digestive tract, you may benefit from regular exercise.
Figure out your triggers
Triggers are anything that causes your anxiety or stress level to rise. These could be related to:
- home life
- many other events in your life
If you can identify your triggers, you may be able to avoid them. If you can’t avoid, you may find taking steps to self-care through your stress helpful.
Triggers can include but are not limited to some of the following examples:
- public speaking
- doctor’s appointments
- stressful day at work or school
Anxiety can cause you to need to poop. This is due to the way your brain communicates with your GI tract. When you become anxious, it can send a message to your gut that triggers the need to poop or other digestive symptoms.
Different situations can potentially trigger anxiety. You may find it occurs before an event, like a race or game, or before stressful events, like an interview or speech.
You can take some steps to help prevent sudden urges to poop due to anxiety, including:
- adjusting any current anxiety treatments
- avoiding triggers
- learning ways that help you positively respond to stress