Stress Poop is Real—Here’s Why it Happens
Anxiety got you headed to the bathroom in a hurry? Find out if it’s just frazzled nerves—or something else.
If you’ve suddenly got the urge to poop before that big interview or presentation, you may be dealing with stress poop.
Stress poop “is not an official diagnosis, but it definitely is a thing,” says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, a nutritionist and dietitian from Long Beach, California. “There is a strong mind-gut connection, which is why how you feel [emotionally] can impact your gut.”
The gut-brain is what causes you to run for the bathroom when you’re feeling frazzled. You may poop, or you may just feel the urge. Stress poop may look the same as your regular poop, or it can be looser.
The good news? It’s not necessarily a symptom of an underlying condition, according to David Leventhal, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Having a stress poop, in and of itself, can be a variation of normal physiological response to stress and not reflect a problem, per se—much like a increase in heart rate when feeling scared or anxious is a normal part of that emotional experience.”
When to see your doctor
If you have more than three loose bowel movements in a day, go more than three days without having a bowel movement, or experience ongoing stomach pain, it may be a good time to make an appointment with your GP to rule out irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Faris Pacha, MD, a gastroenterologist at Gastro Health in Birmingham, Alabama also recommends seeking medical attention if you see blood in your poop, start losing weight unexpectedly, or if you wake up at night to poop. Black poop or pale-looking poop also can warrant a visit with a white coat.
When speaking with your doctor, don’t hold anything back when describing your symptoms. (They’ve heard it all.)
“Everyone has a different ‘normal’ but it’s important to not be shy about bringing up any concerns to your doctor,” Pacha says.
Here are 20 symptoms you should never ignore.
Barring anything more serious, stress poop will probably go away when you’re more relaxed—that is, once the interview is over or you maybe-sorta nailed the presentation, you may go back to your regular routine. But if you remain stressed, that could keep it coming, so to say.
“You can get used to stress, but that doesn’t make you less stressed,” Sauceda says. “This is what I call ‘sneaky stress.’ It’s important to check in with yourself and learn how to work through the stress versus getting used to it or ignoring it.” Being mindful of your anxiety level can help you predict when you might need a bathroom in a hurry.
Diet may help, as can using the bathroom before the start of a stressful event, Dr. Leventhal says, adding, “Avoiding eating just prior to [about 30 minutes before] the event is another strategy, as the act of eating increases the movement of the colon and when combined with acute stress.”
Next, find out which foods make you poop.