Understanding the Connection Between Stress and Your IBS Flare-Up


Are you tired of dealing with the painful and unpredictable symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Do you suspect that stress or anxiety may be the culprit behind your IBS flare-up?

IBS affects millions of people worldwide and is a chronic condition that can significantly impact your daily life. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, a growing body of evidence suggests stress and anxiety can worsen symptoms.

In this article, we will explore the connection between stress and IBS flare-ups and provide you with strategies for alleviating your symptoms. We will also discuss the nervous system’s role in regulating gut function and how building a regulated nervous system can provide long-term relief from IBS.

What Causes IBS, And Who Is Likely To Have It?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive disorder that affects the large intestine and is estimated to affect 10-20% of the population. Common causes of IBS can include certain foods, stress, hormonal changes, and bacteria in the gut. People who are more prone to developing IBS include those with a family history of the condition, women, and young adults.

When it comes to identifying what triggers an IBS flare-up, unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as different people respond differently to various triggers.

What Are The Most Common IBS Symptoms?

Irritable bowel syndrome can cause various symptoms, including abdominal pain and cramping, a change in bowel habits, bloating, and excessive wind.

The pain can range from mild discomfort to severe, stabbing pain, which may be relieved by moving your bowels. A change in bowel habits is another common symptom of IBS, including diarrhea, constipation, or sometimes both. These changes can lead to an uncomfortable feeling of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement.

Bloating and swelling of the stomach are also common symptoms of IBS. This can be caused by an accumulation of gas in the intestines, making the stomach feel tight and uncomfortable. Excessive wind, or flatulence, is another symptom of IBS that can be embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause IBS Flare-Ups?

It’s no secret that stress and anxiety can significantly contribute to chronic diarrhea and IBS flare-ups. Research has shown that people with IBS are more likely to experience joint or muscle pain, bloating, and changes in their stool frequency during times of high stress.

In this case, it could be time to look into the potential root cause of your IBS. At the root of our chronic stress, anxiety and overwhelm is a dysregulated nervous system.

A dysregulated nervous system is unable to respond appropriately to external stressors and triggers, keeping us in a chronic state of stress, anxiety and overwhelm. This often results in physical symptoms such as IBS and other gut conditions.

What’s The Connection Between Our Gut And Our Mind?

The old adage goes, ‘it’s all in your head.’ This phrase takes on a whole new meaning for those living with irritable bowel syndrome. Recent studies have revealed that there is an intricate connection between our gut and our mind. 

This relationship begins at the molecular level, where hormones produced during times of increased stress or anxiety interact directly with cells located within the gastrointestinal tract.

One such hormone is serotonin, famously referred to as the ‘happiness hormone’, which plays an important role in regulating mood and digestion alike. When we experience feelings of distress, it has been found that certain types of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are released into the intestines, leading to excessive gas formation. 

Muscle pain (cramps) may also occur due to inflammation caused by these chemicals interacting directly with nerve endings lining the muscles around the stomach area.

Though not yet fully understood, these findings demonstrate how closely intertwined our emotional state can be with conditions like IBS, further confirming its potential link with psychological distress.

How Stress May Trigger or Worsen IBS?

The exact mechanism by which stress can trigger IBS flare-ups is still not fully understood; however, it is thought to involve an increase in hormones and neurotransmitters released into the gut during psychological distress.

This can lead to changes in the acidity levels within the digestive tract and alterations in motility, resulting in severe symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel movements.

In addition, certain foods may be more likely to cause these issues when consumed under stressful conditions due to their complex molecular structure and sensitivity toward intestinal bacteria.

However, it should be noted that any type of dietary intervention alone cannot provide relief if underlying emotional factors remain unresolved or unaddressed.

Understanding how our emotions affect physical health can play an important role in managing irritable bowel syndrome over time.

How Can I Manage Stress To Prevent Another IBS Flare-Up?

By understanding the link between our gut and our mind, we know that high levels of emotional distress can result in an increase of certain hormones, which can lead to inflammation in the digestive system. Therefore, it’s important to identify and address the root cause of stress or anxiety when attempting to prevent future IBS flares up: a dysregulated nervous system.

When our nervous system is dysregulated, it leads to feelings of chronic stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, plus a host of physical symptoms including irritable bowel syndrome.

Building a regulated nervous system, one that can respond to external stressors with ease and flexibility, is essential in navigating everyday stressors, reducing stress and anxiety, and regulating our gut health.

Building a regulated nervous system and healing from your physical symptoms is totally possible with the right structure and support.


Overall, it is evident that there is a complex relationship between our minds and bodies in terms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Whether it’s stress or anxiety that’s causing an IBS flare-up, or if stress only serves to worsen them, one thing is certain; managing one‚Äôs emotional health can be an extremely effective form of treatment for those living with IBS.

To learn more about both the gut-brain connection and how to heal your IBS, I invite you to learn more about nervous system regulation.

The Nervous System Solution, our signature program to regulate and heal a sensitive nervous system, will reopen doors soon. Make sure you don’t miss that window of opportunity by joining the waitlist here. ūüߨ

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.