Constipation often feels like it’s a completely physical problem because of the way the symptoms present themselves - pain, bloating, straining, cramps, etc. However, your constipation may also be caused by your emotions.
Your gut and your brain are intrinsically linked and if you are feeling stressed, are worrying about something, or are troubled by anxiety or depression than this will have an impact on your digestive system.
The challenge is in determining whether your constipation is being caused because you are worrying about the physical symptoms and discomfort that it causes, or because you are worrying about work, a relationship, money, etc. and that is having an impact on your digestion.
How does your mood cause constipation?
If you have ever had a headache after a stressful day, felt anxiety before a job interview, or blushed when you have been embarrassed, these are all demonstrate the close connection between your body and your mind, and how your thoughts and emotions can manifest themselves physically.
Research has in fact shown that mood disorders and emotional distress changes the nerve pathway that helps to control gut function, and therefore psychological factors directly influence your digestive system. As a result, if you suffer from depression or anxiety you are more likely to suffer from a digestive disorder, such as constipation.
This is because negative emotions (e.g. worry or anger) activate your stress hormones, which then act in two ways:
- They shut down certain parts of your immune system, increasing inflammation within the body and weakening your overall health.
- They affect your digestion by slowing down or stopping your digestive juices within the stomach which are needed to breakdown food. This then causes any food consumed to just sit there in the gut - not great news if you are an emotional eater!
Both of these responses are part of our in-built 'fight or flight' survival mechanism, where the body requires all of it's energy to fuel our heart, brain and muscles in response to the increased stress.
As a result, any food we eat doesn't move and leads to constipation.
If you have been 'holding on' to unexpressed emotions such as anger or grief for a long time, this may be the cause of your constipation. Louise Hay, an internationally renowned motivational author and lecturer, connects constipation with "refusing to release old ideas or being stuck in the past". Her answer is to create a new thought pattern using the power of affirmations such as "As I release the past, the new and fresh and vital enter. I allow life to flow through me".
Can constipation affect your mood?
Yes, it can!
For women in particular, some research has suggested that they are more likely to suffer with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression if they are suffering from chronic constipation. This is because constipation can be a stressor both physically and emotionally.
- Physically - the stress of not being able to have a bowel movement, bloating, cramps, pain, straining, etc., as well as the knock-on effect on your overall health.
- Emotionally - the increased stress and worry caused by not having a regular bowel movement, the worry of being 'caught short' if you go out, or the fear of the pain it may cause when you do have a bowel movement which in turn means you 'hold on' for longer.
The same research also found that those female patients who had a poorer psychological well-being also had lower rectal blood flow (the amount of blood within the rectal and anus area which will affect the control and release of your bowel movements), compared to women who had a happier disposition.
6 ways to improve your mood
Firstly, you do need to try and determine whether your mood is causing your constipation, or your constipation is causing your mood. There are then a number of things you can do to help relieve your constipation, and improve your mood to achieve better all-round health.
1. Improve your diet - food is closely linked to how you feel, and this blog has lots of dietary advice around eating better to improve your constipation. A diet high in fibre, whole grains, water and fruit and vegetables will make you feel (and look) much better than one that is full of sugar, processed foods and alcohol.
2. Exercise – there is lots of research around that supports the health benefits of exercising both on your moods but also constipation. I have also previously written about the benefits of exercise in ‘Exercise to relieve constipation’. This can be a walk in the park, a jog around the block or a few simple yoga moves such as ‘Can yoga relieve constipation? 4 simple poses’.
3. Learn to relax – not as easy as it sounds but we’re all victims of being too busy sometimes. Take 5 minutes every day that is just for you. Whether that’s reading a book, having a bath, or even sitting still with a cup of tea and just doing nothing! Lavender is great for helping you to relax and lowers anxiety levels so grab some lavender oil and dab it on a tissue and inhale or try an essential oil diffuser.
4. Hypnotherapy – for bigger worries or concerns that may be caused by a specific event (past or present), then I would highly recommend hypnotherapy or other similar treatments to help release any blocked emotions or anxiety. This should only be done through a qualified practitioner – try the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis to find a practitioner near you.
5. Massage – massaging your abdomen can help to stimulate the muscles and organs that will help encourage bowel movements and relieve constipation. The Global Healing Center has an easy to follow guide to massaging your abdomen.
6. Speak to your GP – if you have been feeling low or anxious consistently for a number of weeks then I strongly advise you to speak to your GP. They will have lots of advice around the best approach for you in order to help you feel better, which doesn’t always mean antidepressants but in some cases they have their place and are highly effective.
Listening to your body, both mentally and physically, will go a long way to helping you determine what is causing your constipation, or in fact if your constipation is driving your mood and emotions. Stress can be a major factor in constipation - as discussed in 'Can stress cause constipation?' - so remember to take time out, and pay attention to even the smallest gripe as it could be the start of you feeling much happier, and ultimately constipation-free.