Can Stress Cause IBS? | Evidence Suggests Yes!
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
March 24, 2023

Can stress cause IBS?

Yes, clinical and research evidence suggests stress can cause IBS and other GI problems.

Increased stress is directly implicated in the Gut-Brain Axis.

Read on to learn more…

Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be a challenging experience, especially when stress levels are high.

Many IBS patients report that their symptoms flare up during stressful periods, which can lead to a vicious cycle of more stress and worse symptoms.

In this article, we’ll explore various techniques for managing stress that can help improve IBS symptoms and overall quality of life.

Before we dive into stress management techniques, it’s important to understand what IBS is and how it affects the body.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a chronic digestive disorder that affects the large intestine.

Gastrointestinal symptoms can include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it is thought to be related to a combination of factors, including gut sensitivity, abnormal muscle contractions, chronic stress, and psychological factors.

Stress-induced IBS: The link

IBS is a stress-sensitive disorder, meaning stress and anxiety are common triggers for developing IBS symptoms and other gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers.

When we’re under stress, our bodies release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, affecting our digestive tract.

Stress can also lead to changes in our gut bacteria, which can worsen IBS symptoms.

The relationship between stress and IBS has been well-documented.

A 2014 clinical review discovered a relationship between IBS and the development of constipation, which in turn leads to hemorrhoids.

Techniques for Stress Management

While it’s impossible to eliminate major life traumas and stress from our lives completely, many relaxation techniques can help manage stress and reduce its impact on IBS symptoms.

Here are some ways you can reduce stress in your life:

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a technique that involves focusing your attention on the present moment without judgment.

Research has shown that mindfulness meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety and may also improve IBS symptoms.

2. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body’s stress response.

Taking slow, deep breaths can help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.

3. Exercise

Regular exercise is an excellent way to manage stress and improve overall health.

Exercise releases endorphins, natural mood boosters that can also help regulate the digestive system.

4. Yoga

Yoga combines physical postures with breathing exercises and meditation, making it an effective stress-management tool.

Studies have shown that practicing yoga can help reduce stress and improve IBS symptoms.

5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on altering negative thought and behavior patterns.

It effectively treats various mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.

CBT can also be beneficial for stress management related to IBS.

6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body.

This technique can help reduce tension and anxiety, promote relaxation.

7. Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is becoming an increasingly popular treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Studies have shown that hypnotherapy can positively impact the symptoms of IBS, such as reducing pain and bloating, improving bowel movements, and easing anxiety and stress.

Hypnotherapy works by accessing the subconscious mind and changing the messages the gut receives, reducing the hypersensitivity that causes IBS.

During a hypnotherapy session, the patient is guided into a relaxed state to receive suggestions and imagery that positively impact their gut sensations.

Hypnotherapy sessions usually take place over several weeks or months, and patients may need to practice self-hypnosis at home to reinforce the effects.

While not a cure for IBS, hypnotherapy can be an effective and non-invasive way to manage the symptoms and improve the quality of life for those suffering from IBS.

Click on the image below to watch my video on IBS on my YouTube channel:

What other lifestyle adjustments can help reduce IBS symptoms?

In addition to stress management approaches, there are further lifestyle modifications that can aid in the management of IBS symptoms.

Dietary adjustments are one of the most essential lifestyle improvements.

Many patients with IBS discover that specific meals, such as spicy or fatty foods, dairy products, and caffeine, can trigger symptoms. Read more about this below.

Maintaining a food journal can assist in identifying food triggers, which can subsequently be avoided or reduced.

Some effective lifestyle modifications for controlling IBS symptoms include:

  • Staying hydrated.
  • Establishing a regular sleep pattern.
  • Engaging in regular physical activity.

Dehydration can worsen IBS symptoms.

Therefore, drinking enough water and avoiding sugary or fizzy beverages is crucial (because they can induce increased urination).

Establishing a regular sleep schedule and maintaining good sleep hygiene can enhance sleep quality and reduce stress.

Frequent exercise can also aid in managing IBS symptoms since it promotes general health and aids in digestive regulation.

Managing IBS with medications

In addition to lifestyle modifications and stress management measures, some drugs can be administered to treat IBS-related stress.

Antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can aid in alleviating IBS symptoms, such as stomach pain and bloating.

These drugs impact the neurotransmitters in the brain and enteric nervous system that control mood and pain perception.

Anti-anxiety drugs, such as benzodiazepines, can also aid in lowering anxiety and tension.

Antispasmodics, such as Bentyl (dicyclomine ) and Levsin (hyoscyamine) are drugs that inhibit muscular spasms in the digestive system.

They can be beneficial in relieving IBS symptoms such as stomach pain and cramping.

Some evidence suggests that having low Vitamin D levels can also cause or worsen IBS.

Read my other article that explores this concept further.

Can diet alter symptoms of IBS?

Food plays an important part in the management of IBS symptoms.

Several individuals with IBS find that hot or fatty foods, dairy products, and caffeine can cause symptoms.

Maintaining a food journal can assist in identifying food triggers, which can subsequently be avoided or reduced.

In addition to identifying trigger foods, some individuals with IBS find that eating smaller, more often meals can aid in symptom management.

Moreover, fiber supplements can assist in regulating bowel motions and alleviate constipation symptoms.

Low Vitamin D and IBS

Evidence suggests that low levels of Vitamin D can also cause IBS. To learn more, read my detailed article here.

Is there a cure for IBS?

While the actual cause of IBS is not yet fully understood, no cure is currently available.

Yet, managing symptoms and enhancing the quality of life is feasible with the correct combination of lifestyle modifications, stress management techniques, and medication interventions.

Some individuals with IBS may have long periods without experiencing symptoms, whilst others may experience chronic symptoms requiring ongoing therapy.

How can I locate a therapist who specializes in IBS-related stress treatment?

Choose a therapist with expertise working with patients with digestive difficulties if you are interested in therapy for IBS-related stress.

You might begin by requesting a referral from your healthcare practitioner or searching online for therapists treating IBS-related stress.

In addition, it is essential to ensure that the therapist is licensed and possesses the credentials and experience to deliver effective treatment.



Stress management is a key component of IBS symptom management.

Changes in lifestyle, such as dietary alterations, enough hydration, and regular sleep patterns, can be useful in lowering stress and enhancing overall health.

Stress reduction strategies such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, and yoga are very beneficial.

In rare instances, medicines may be administered to manage stress-related IBS symptoms.

It is feasible to successfully control IBS symptoms and enhance your quality of life using a mix of lifestyle modifications and medicinal interventions.

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