Stress Constipation and How to Prevent It
You’re probably familiar with the phrase, “Poop or get off the toilet.”
While this is fine advice for a serial procrastinator, it’s the last thing you want to hear if you’re constipated.
In fact, constipation is no joking matter as it can lead to serious health issues, including skin issues, fecal impaction, hemorrhoids, or even more severe colon issues.
Common knowledge usually points us to one of three solutions if you’re blocked: increase your magnesium, water, or fiber intake.
These are all strong solutions and, for some, simply increasing a combination of these three may resolve the issue fairly quickly.
But there are still many people who may suffer despite trying these common solutions, so what then?
There are a few other things that can cause constipation, including various pathogens (parasites, bacteria, fungus). It could be that you’re eating a diet that isn’t suited to your biological needs.
Or perhaps it’s part of the suite of symptoms that comes with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
But there’s another highly likely culprit: the impact of stress on your digestive system.
Digestion Happens — or Doesn’t — on An Unconscious Level
Everyone is familiar with muscle tone as it relates to working out like a beast, but when it comes to your digestive system, we’re dealing with an entirely different kind of muscle tone.
Your colon and intestinal tract are made up of “smooth muscles” primarily controlled automatically by way of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS features nerves that run from your brain to various organs.
It controls bodily functions on an essentially unconscious level, including heart rate, respiratory rate, pupillary response, and digestion
Within the ANS, you’ll find the sympathetic nervous system, which controls your “fight-or-flight” response — bodily functions that happen when you’re under stress — and the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your “rest, digest, and repair” response — bodily functions that happen when you relax.
Why You’re Not Pooping
How does constipation factor into this?
Let’s pretend you’re walking in the woods and you see a bear. Odds are that your sympathetic nervous system will kick in and you’ll either run away or attack the bear.
If you attacked the bear, this hypothetic situation would end abruptly, so let’s say for the sake of argument that you run and that the bear is slow but persistent.
He keeps chasing you, but as long as you keep running, he can’t catch up. (Admittedly, this is an unlikely metaphor, but it will make sense in the end!)
Clearly, this would be a stressful situation, which is when your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. In terms of your digestive system, initially, the muscles in your bowels might relax and you might soil your pants.
This is a logical biological reaction to a predator; you instantly smell unappetizing and you drop some weight so you can run faster.
But after that, your body favors the sympathetic nervous system, which is going to help you continue running until the danger has passed.
It also shuts down the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system because they aren’t important to the immediate task at hand — outrunning the bear.
Among these functions is digestion. And when you don’t digest properly, you also don’t poop properly.
This bear situation is just a dramatic example of the body being in an acutely sympathetic state.
Ultimately, your nervous system doesn’t know the difference between being chased by an animal, having a nightmare boss, or raising a rebellious teenager.
Stress is stress and your body will respond to it the only way it knows how. So if you are experiencing constipation, it could be due to an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system either system-wide or locally.
In layman’s terms, a high level of mental and/or emotional stress is stopping you from pooping.
How Can You Reverse Stress Constipation?
Obviously, the key is to stop stressing so much! That’s easier said than done — but still easier done than you’d think.
A few small things can make a big difference when it comes to stress, and specifically stress constipation.
Use a squatty potty to position yourself properly. This puts you in a more natural position and relieves some physical stress.Walk daily and limit sitting. Again this puts you in a more natural state. Also, gentle exercise can help relieve stress and aid digestion.Yoga and breathing exercises are two great ways to relax you and stimulate a parasympathetic response.Meditate, even if it’s just five minutes every day. Your practice can range from Zen meditation to contemplating your favorite poetry to sitting on the coach and staring into space.
Whatever you do, remember that the parasympathetic side is the side that is more activated when you are relaxing, so it’s important to your health to find time to do that.
Over time, the more right things you implement, the easier it will be to have normal healthy bowel movements and feel much more comfortable in your skin.