It is probably true that the majority of common digestive problems are caused or made worse by feeling stressed.
In England 10-20% of people have IBS at some time in their lives, and twice as many women get it as men. About half of people with IBS can relate the start of symptoms to a stressful event in their life. Symptoms tend to become worse during times of stress or anxiety (1) and stress has been clearly shown to make IBS symptoms worse (2).
Stress causes negative changes to stomach acid levels and muscle spasm that can lead to the acidic gas going the wrong way. This kind of disruption affects the pH and bacterial balance of the digestive system, making ulcers more likely.
Feelings of stress will change how you breath, leading to a reduction in CO2 and then constriction of the muscles around the intestines. This can lead to constipation, and when the muscle spasm reduces, loose bowels will often follow.
It is now well established that stress is a factor in IBD and equally that reducing stress levels can decrease relapses and lead to long-term remission (3).
What do you need to do now?
2. The ties that bind: perceived social support, stress, and IBS in severely affected patients
J. Lackner et al.
Neurogastroenterology & Motility, Volume 22, Issue 8, pages 893–900, August 2010
3. Psychological stress in IBD: new insights into pathogenic and therapeutic implications
J .Mawdsley, D. Rampton
Gut 2005;54:1481-1491 doi:10.1136/gut.2005.064261