Chronic Constipation and Emotional Stress


Chronic constipation affects up to 20% of the American population. The common assumption is that if we eat “right,” exercise and drink plenty of fluids that constipation should never occur. Yet countless adults seek help every year for chronic constipation or, worse, they suffer in silence. But what if the only cause for chronic constipation isn’t physiological in nature? It’s something that we rarely take the time to think about in our busy lives, but chronic constipation very well could stem from repressed emotional trauma. Whether it is physical or psychological trauma is up for debate, but some researchers are making a strong connection between chronic constipation and emotional trauma.

In my younger years I suffered from abdominal cramping and diarrhea frequently enough to use 2-3 bottles of over-the-counter medication a week. At some point though, my body changed and chronic constipation became a real concern. Laxative abuse became my status quo, which inevitably made the condition worse. Also during this time, I was under a great amount of personal stress. Even though I was only a child, I had been thrust in to an adult role of taking care of ailing grandparents who also expected me to achieve academic perfection and play sports.

All of this contributed to a disturbance in my brain-gut communication and eventually a shutdown occurred.

Emotional stress can change the nerve pathway that helps coordinate gut functioning. The more frequent or severe the stressors are the more severe the reaction will be. Negative emotions can inhibit the immune system, which creates inflammation within the body. The gastrointestinal system does not like inflammation! Negative emotions also have the ability to stop your digestive juice production. This is bad! We need those juices to be able to break down the foods that we eat and without them the food just sits in the stomach – and rots!

What’s worse is that constipation can affect your mood! The brain-gut connection does not flow unilaterally. Chronic constipation can create a cyclical effect of anxiety and depression. For some individuals the depression and anxiety came first and for others the chronic constipation. However for those with non-physiological chronic constipation delving deeper into that emotional connection may be fruitful.

If you know that you are under a lot of stress at work, have family tension, suffered the loss of a loved one (both distant and recent), have financial burdens, etc. and you can trace the start of the constipation back to around the same time, then it is likely that you may be experiencing chronic constipation as a result of your emotional status. One word of caution though, it may not be a recent emotional event that is triggering the gastrointestinal problems. For me, for example, the loss of my mother 31 years ago was something that I needed to deal with on top of all of the other emotional stressors and burdens that I was carrying around. So dig deep to see if there is something that you have left unresolved.

Here are some ways to improve your mood:

  1. Adjust your diet! There are many studies out there that confirm that our diet is critical in achieving and maintaining optimal health. Avoiding foods that are processed, poisoned, and packaged is a great place to start. Eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible without genetic modification, pesticides, and a shelf life longer than your own!
  2. Move your body! Exercise is a wonderful stress reliever since it has the ability to release those natural endorphins that make us feel good from the inside out. Yoga, a brisk walk, Tai Chi and strength training are great forms of exercise. Avoid anything that produces heavy sweating since your body must find moisture from some place and it can further complicate constipation by pulling the water from the intestines to keep the body in a state of homeostasis or temperature balance.
  3. Breathe! In our every day “Hurry up and wait!” lifestyle we need to remember to just take time to breathe. Sit on your porch with a cup of tea, practice meditation, call up an old friend and catch up on each other’s lives, or simply take a walk in nature. Anything that gives us a break from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and stressors is going to improve our moods.
  4. Massage and/or NVD (Neurovascular Dynamics) can help the body to release not only the tension in our bodies, but also stimulate the blood flow to the appropriate organs to help them establish their own balance.

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