Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract, and usually involves a variety of symptoms including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloating. Many people with IBS also have anxiety, which can trigger IBS symptoms.
Studies have shown that people with IBS have a higher prevalence of mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. There has been ongoing research on the idea that anxiety and IBS may have a higher correlation than researchers thought.
Let’s review the symptoms of each condition, the data on why they might be related, and ways to cope with and manage your symptoms.
Symptoms of anxiety and IBS
While IBS and anxiety are quite different, it’s important to recognize that some of their symptoms overlap. People living with IBS typically experience multiple IBS symptoms, which can include:
- Abdominal pain and cramping, usually in the lower abdomen
- ~~Changes in bowel habits
- ~~Diarrhea, constipation, or both
Symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Restlessness or irritability
- Inability to control worry
- Unexplained stomach pains and headaches
- Nausea and diarrhea
- Problems sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
Because anxiety symptoms can include gastrointestinal ailments such as stomach aches, diarrhea, and nausea, many symptoms of IBS and anxiety overlap, which can make it difficult to determine what’s causing the symptoms.
The data behind IBS and anxiety
Research shows that anxiety can worsen a person’s IBS symptoms. Although there is not a direct correlation, there is still ongoing research.
Anxiety and stress can lead to physical symptoms in some people, such as diarrhea, heart palpitations, and sweating. It can also cause overactivity of the intestinal tract, leading to symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain.
Several studies show that there is a direct correlation between your gut and your brain. Changes to your gut bacteria, or microbiome, can contribute to anxiety and depression symptoms.
Stress and anxiety can affect your body’s immune system too. While further research is needed, several studies are researching a potential link between . This means the immune system could be part of a correlation between anxiety and the development of irritable bowel syndrome.
Ways to cope with IBS and anxiety
Managing your anxiety can help improve IBS symptoms. Let’s review a few ways to cope with anxiety and control your symptoms.
- Exercise: Exercise can reduce stress levels and improve mental health. Try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It can be as simple as walking, playing tennis, or practicing yoga.
- Deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing exercises promote heart, brain, and digestion health. They are associated with health and longevity. Anxiety often causes shortness of breath and other cardiovascular symptoms, so practicing deep and slow breathing may help you manage your symptoms. This exercise helps with concentration and relaxation. Meditation and yoga are great ways to practice deep breathing techniques.
- Support system: Managing your anxiety and IBS can be overwhelming, especially for those who are newly diagnosed with IBS. It’s important to have a support system you can rely on. Your support system can be made up of family members or friends. If you don’t have a strong support system, consider checking if there is a local support group for people who have IBS.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a psychological treatment that helps you recognize negative thinking and then gives you tools to help you manage your thoughts and responses to difficult situations. Research shows that it can help manage anxiety symptoms. Gut-directed CBT specifically for IBS can be done digitally, through mobile apps like Mahana.
Anxiety and IBS can overlap and intertwine, so try to identify ways to manage your anxiety symptoms that work for you, since managing them effectively can help you deal with your IBS symptoms as well.
If you deal with both anxiety and IBS, consult with your doctor about Mahana IBS, an app-based treatment program that helps you discover unhelpful patterns and triggers and teaches you skills to decrease your IBS symptoms.