Does Stress Cause Diarrhea? IBS, Stress, and Bowel Movement

Many individuals deal with an increased amount of stress on a regular basis. Some people notice that they also have increased digestive system issues like diarrhea, nausea, constipation, abdominal cramping, and other health problems that seem to become more frequent and intense during times of elevated stress.

Many people wonder, does stress cause diarrhea and/or IBS? Dr. Tiffani Fries of Genesis Chiropractic in Salt Lake City, Utah, offers some sage advice on the matter.

Is Diarrhea a Serious Health Concern?

While episodes of diarrhea do occur in at least 50 percent of the population at one time or another, diarrhea still poses a troubling health risk around the globe. Diarrhea is now the second leading cause of childhood deaths worldwide in children under the age of 5 years old.

These deaths are often attributed to dehydration of the smaller young person due to persistent diarrhea and increased body temperature from the illness causing the loose stools.

Older adults, especially ones at a low weight, also are at higher risk of developing serious health complications when having prolonged issues with loose stool.

Possible Causes of Diarrhea

There are many possible causes of diarrhea, and ongoing diarrhea accompanied by other abnormal symptoms should be checked out by a doctor if it does not resolve on its own in a timely manner. Many people are embarrassed to admit that they have this problem.

Possible causes of diarrhea include:

  • Hypothyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), usually accompanied by increased heart rate & blood pressure
  • Food Poisoning
  • Infections
  • Food Related Allergies, Sensitivities, or Intolerances – Ex. Celiac Disease or Lactose Intolerant
  • Overusing Laxatives
  • Poor Diet
  • Diabetes
  • Intestinal Diseases like Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease
  • Eating Foods That Cause Bowel or Stomach Problems
  • Side Effects of Medications
  • Drinking too Much Alcohol
  • Surgeries on Part of Digestive System – Stomach or Intestines
  • Cancer or Cancer Treatment Reactions – Radiation or Chemotherapy
  • Bacterial Overgrowth in the Small Intestine or Certain Fungal Diseases or Issues
  • Increased, Prolonged and/or Chronic Stress & Unmanaged Anxieties
  • Why Stress & Diarrhea May Be Connected for Some

Scientists have already determined that anxiety, or stress, can and does negatively impact the digestive system causing diarrhea and other related symptoms. This is mostly due to the “fight or flight” mechanism all humans have when in a serious or life-threatening situation.

This instinctive response causes the heart to speed up, increases muscle tension, and loosens the large intestines which in turn causes loose stool or diarrhea.

The stomach and intestines have their own “nervous system” termed the enteric system which regulates the bowels. When someone is under chronic stress, this regulating system becomes overtaxed, and symptoms then occur.

Tips for Decreasing or Stopping Stress-Induced IBS & Frequent Diarrhea

Stress does not cause IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, per se, but stress does tend to exacerbate or trigger more symptoms. There are some effective treatments to manage stress better.

Manage Stress with Dietary Changes

Certain foods can trigger an inflammatory response in the gut. Avoidance of high-fat and salty or spicy foods can help. So-called “comfort foods” that people tend to eat when stressed include dairy or gluten both known triggers for IBS symptoms like diarrhea.

Along with diet and possible medications, it is essential to increase fluid intake to prevent dehydration. Also, stay away from energy drinks and avoid carbonated and caffeine or sugar-laden drinks that cause bloating and other gastrointestinal issues. Try a gut calming tea instead.

Get Regular Exercise & Try Yoga for Stress Reduction

Getting outdoors in nature, or even opening a window, can be a stress reducer. Regular exercise also releases endorphins into the bloodstream that again decrease pain and anxieties naturally.

Yoga, with or without meditation, or praying for even a few minutes daily can go a long way towards keeping anxiety under control. Consider using calming essential oils or light a fragrant candle to ease your mind and soul.

Make Positive Lifestyle Changes like Getting Plenty of Sleep

Make and keep to a regular bedtime routine. Most anxious people do not get the proper amount of sleep. Avoid television, working on your computer, or talking on the phone for a few hours prior to bedtime. Sleep is the body’s natural healer.

Determining if Bowel Symptoms Are IBS or IBD

Take note of your symptoms during a bout of diarrhea to determine if you could be experiencing IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, or IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Common IBD Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Bloody Stool or Mucous in Stool
  • Anemia
  • Lose of Weight Rapidly
  • Abdominal Cramping or Pain
  • Fever

Common IBS Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Increased Gas
  • Belly Discomfort or Cramping
  • Constipation and/or followed by Diarrhea

When to Call the Doctor for Diarrhea or Other Bowel Upsets

Call the doctor for the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Bloody Stools
  • Treatment Not Working
  • Thoughts of Suicide or Harm
  • You Abuse Drugs or Alcohol to Deal with Stress and/or Diarrhea

Functional medicine treatments can often help IBS, IBD, and many stress-induced gastrointestinal problems. Get in touch with Dr. Tiffani Fries at Genesis Chiropractic in Millcreek, Utah, or Holladay, Utah today.

Please contact Genesis Chiropractic to learn more about treating IBS through Functional Medicine or book your appointment today!


1. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (iffgd) article 2021 titled “Facts About IBS.”

Facts About IBS

2. The World Health Organization article titled “Diarrheal Disease” from 5-02-2017.