It’s common to hear about the strong connection between the body and mind – and how our state of mind can have huge implications for our health. Often we might dismiss this idea though, thinking that any impact that mental state could have on the body would have to be pretty small and largely insignificant. Most people don’t really buy that you can ‘think yourself ill’ or ‘think yourself better’.
While the latter may sometimes be impossible though, the truth is that the link between the body and mind is very real and actually very profound. And never is this more apparent than when you’re stressed. When you’re stressed you’ll find your heart rate increases, your temperature rises, your blood pressure goes up… and you might even need to run to the toilet.
Still don’t think your brain can have a big impact on your biological processes?
That last phenomenon is one that’s quite common but which can seem a little mysterious still. How on earth does being stressed about work make you need the toilet? And how can ongoing stress lead to diarrhea?
How Stress Diarrhea Works
The link between stress and diarrhea is actually caused by contractions affecting the colon. When you’re very stressed you see, your body secretes hormones such as adrenaline and norepinephrine which have the effect of contracting the muscles (among other things). This is so that in the wild – were we to be chased by a lion or a forest fire – we would have more muscular power to deal with that immediate threat.
Of course muscle power isn’t very useful when it comes to fighting debt or an angry boss, so this reaction isn’t quite so ‘adaptive’ these days. Nevertheless it still occurs and can have some unwanted side effects such as increased tension in the colon. And this is what causes stress diarrhea.
While you might not realize it, when you are stressed, you will be slightly clenching pretty much your whole body including your colon which will make you more likely to need the toilet.
This is then combined with an increased heart rate and blood pressure and generally an increased blood pressure – all of which speeds up pretty much every process in the body.
Is Stress Diarrhea IBS?
IBS and stress are closely linked and those who suffer with IBS will find that their bowel movements are particularly susceptible to their emotional state. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean that stress diarrhea is always a sign of IBS – it is actually perfectly possible to experience stress diarrhea and not have IBS. IBS has a number of specific criteria necessary for a diagnosis, which are together known as the ‘Rome III Criteria’.
Stress diarrhea can actually affect anyone, just as anyone can experience incontinence in response to extreme fear.
And in either case, this is pretty undeniable evidence of the incredibly strong link between the body and the mind!