Inflammatory Bowel Disease Symptoms and Stress

Quincy AdamUC Lifestyle

Sticky Notes
Stress has not been proven as a direct cause of inflammatory bowel disease symptoms, but the connection between has been anecdotally reported for years.

However, in recent years researchers have been looking more closely at a potential link between stress and IBD. In 2005, the National Institutes of Health published an article investigating the connection and concluding that psychological stressors do play a role in relapses of IBD symptoms.1

And in 2010, in a study of triggers of flares in IBD, the American Journal of Gastroenterology reported that for 25% of participants 174 out of 704), stress, negative mood and major life events were the only triggers associated with the occurrence of flares.2

Still, without a direct and measurable cause and effect, stress can only be regarded as an indirect cause of IBD symptoms. Yet many patients experience symptoms that become worse with stress. Just as nervous excitement or stress can leave a healthy person running for the bathroom, the same can be true of those with IBD—only more so.

The worst part is that for some, knowing that they’re in the presence of stress or tension only creates more stress. IBD patients normally know that it is important to manage stress; worrying about the effect stress will have only make the situation worse.

Fortunately, there are stress relief strategies that may help people with IBD manage their symptoms:

Focus on breathing

Paying attention to your breathing can go a long way toward increasing relaxation and stress relief. This is the basis of meditation—slowing and focusing on the breath in order to relax the body and mind. Regularly practicing this sort of breath work can not only calm you in the moment, but throughout their day as well.


It can be difficult to find the energy or desire to get exercise when you’re having an IBD flare. Still, it’s important to increase the “feel good” endorphins in your body by getting even light exercise during a flare. When you’re feeling good, make it a point to get even more exercise to help manage your stress—and as a result—your symptoms.

Practice yoga

Yoga is a powerful tool in your stress relief arsenal, and it’s not physically demanding, so you can practice it even when your energy is low. Yoga’s positive effects range from regulating heart and blood pressure rates to elevating the mood. Beginners can get started by joining a beginner yoga class, following online videos, or downloading apps onto your phone.

Use visualization

The mind is a powerful tool for reducing stress. Focusing on pleasant or desirable mental images or scenarios can significantly reduce stress. When performing visualization techniques, make sure you’re in a quiet place and sitting or reclining comfortably. Picture yourself in places or situations with which you’re familiar, to make it easier for you to visualize. You may even want to use music or sounds that you relate to your mental pictures. For example, you may want to listen to the sound of crashing waves and seagulls if you are imagining yourself at the beach.

Whether or not your inflammatory bowel disease symptoms are brought on by stress, controlling stress while in the grips of a flare-up may help you better manage symptoms while improving overall health.

1 Mawdsley JE, Rampton DS. Psychological stress in IBD: new insights into pathogenic and therapeutic implications. Gut. 2005;54(10):1481-91.
2 Bernstein CN, Singh S, Graff LA, Walker JR, Miller N, Cheang M. A prospective population-based study of triggers of symptomatic flares in IBD. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010;105(9):1994-2002