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Handling Your Emotions With Chronic Constipation

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 03, 2021

Chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC) is when you have hard stools that are tough to pass and you usually poop fewer than three times a week. It’s a common condition that affects more women than men.

For some people, the uncertainty and discomfort that come with CIC can be upsetting. It can:

  • Cause stress and anxiety
  • Affect your sex life
  • Mess with your sleep
  • Make you feel tired or not well
  • Lead you to skip social activities

Emotions and Your Bowels

Stress can upset your gut and make you tense your muscles. That can make your constipation worse. And your brain is on high alert during times of stress, so you’re more aware of belly upset.

Anything that causes chronic stress, including CIC, can affect your emotions and your well-being. That can put a strain on your relationships, too.

Experts also think that levels of serotonin, a chemical your body makes, play a role in the movement of your bowels, along with affecting your mood.  

Tips to Manage Stress and Your Emotions

You can do some things to keep your emotions on a more even keel:

Add activity. Go for a walk, a swim, a bike ride ... any kind of movement that you enjoy. Exercise helps you release stress and feel better. It may also help with your bowel movements.

Connect and share. Talk to friends or family members about what's going on in your life. The stronger your social ties, the better.

Spark joy. Find activities that appeal to you, like gardening, walking in the park, or artwork. Make time for your hobbies. They’re a key part of a rewarding life.

Get mindful. Meditation, yoga, and prayer may help ease your stress. Meditation is something anyone can do by putting your attention on something (such as your breathing or a word that's meaningful for you) for a few minutes a couple of times a day. Your mind will wander. That's OK. Just gently return your attention to your breathing.

Know when to get help. If your quality of life or emotions are taking a hit, and lifestyle changes don’t help enough, tell your doctor. They’ll ask you some questions about how much or how you feel stressed, sad, or unable to enjoy your normal activities.

If your doctor thinks you might have anxiety or depression, they may refer you to a therapist. It's important to take care of your mind and emotions, as well as your body.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Molecular Medicine Reports: “Chronic Constipation and Treatment Options (Review).”

UCLA Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress and Resilience: “Chronic Constipation.”

Canadian Society of Intestinal Research: “Serious Toll of Chronic Constipation Overlooked.”

Medicine (Baltimore): “Influence of sleep disorders on somatic symptoms, mental health, and quality of life in patients with chronic constipation.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Malaise.”

American Journal of Gastroenterology: “Psychological disorders in patients with evacuation disorders and constipation in a tertiary practice.”

American Psychological Association: “Stress effects on the body.”

NutritionFacts.org: “Serotonin.”

Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench: “Psychological disorders in patients with chronic constipation.”

GoodTherapy.org: “Stress.”

Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: “Disturbed Sleep and Disturbed Bowel Functions: Implications for Constipation in Healthy Individuals.”

GoodTherapy.org: “Sleep Disorders.”

American Psychological Association: “Five tips to help manage stress.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Meditation: In Depth."

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