Stress and Constipation

Stress can negatively affect many bodily processes and our bowel function is no different. While stress speeds up many bodily functions, stress slows down the processes of bowel elimination. The colon absorbs as much as 2 liters of water/day from digested food, so the slower it moves through the colon, the harder it can be to pass.

Peristalsis is the movement of digested food through the colon. During times of stress, whether positive or negative, this process can be further delayed. Rest and relaxation or peace, increase peristalsis which allows for improved bowel movements.

Reflexes that initiate peristalsis during food intake can be disrupted when we have irregular eating patterns, reduce food intake or even skip meals. Eating a warm and consistent breakfast can help to improve bowel regularity, especially in the mornings.

Often times when we are stressed we ignore the urge to defecate. Routinely ignoring this urge can cause expansion of the colon, which decreases the urge the defecate and can increase the amount of stool that is retained in the body even with seemingly complete bowel movements. The more this happens routinely, the larger and harder the stool can become. This can lead to chronic constipation.

The best bowel movements are initiated by the parasympathetic defecation reflex, which occurs when we are relaxed and when we respond to the urge to defecate by allowing this process to occur instead of delaying it. While we can initiate bowel movements through pushing, these movements are less effective and often result in an early closure of pelvic floor muscles. Artificially initiated bowel movements can then cause us to be constipated because we have not completely emptied our bowels.

Chronic constipation can lead, believe it or not, to weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. In extreme cases, suffers can also develop issues with bowel seepage. This can be a challenging to treat once it begins.

~Tiffany, pelvic floor physical therapist
photo credit: WC via photopin (license)

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