This post is coming to us from Bina Moore who is a clinical therapist and an incredible support to my clients who struggle with their digestive health. She is passionate about mental health and a real expert when it comes to strategies that can help you manage stress and get you in a good head space to manage your symptoms. Most of the clients she supports in her role with us are shocked to hear of the correlation between anxiety and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

What is Anxiety?

Excellent question! Anxiety is the body’s way of responding to being in danger. Adrenaline is rushed into our bloodstream to enable us to run away or fight. This happens whether the danger is real, or whether we believe the danger is there, when in fact it is not. It is the body’s alarm and survival mechanism.  Primitive man wouldn’t have survived for long without this life-saving response! It works so well that it often kicks in when it’s not needed. We think we’re in danger, so that’s enough to trigger the system to get up and go! People who get anxious tend to get into a sort of constant scanning mode where they’re always on the lookout for danger and hyper-aware of any and all signals around them which makes it more likely that the alarm system will be activated.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Symptoms of anxiety can have a very intense effect on your body chemistry, occasionally even changing your hormone production, altering your immune system, and in some cases, upsetting your digestive tract resulting in symptoms that are all too familiar to those suffering with IBS – bloating, gastrointestinal discomforts, erratic bowel movements, chronic abdominal pain, diarrhea and constipation.  If you are unsure of whether you are experiencing anxiety here are a few physical sensations that will trigger an adrenaline response in your body:

  • Fast paced breathing
  • Dizzy or light headed
  • Muscle tensions
  • Sweating
  • Fast heart beat

Anxious behaviours might include:

  • Avoiding people or places
  • Going to certain places at certain times, leaving early
  • Coping behaviours i.e. smoking, drinking, fiddling, increasingly talkative, quiet or withdrawn, avoiding eye contact etc.

It is important to remember that anxiety is not the sole cause of IBS development and there are other factors to consider when diagnosing an individual with IBS.

For more on the mind-gut connection, check out our article on stress and digestion.