One in four Australian adults reports moderate to severe stress levels. And research shows that those who experience higher levels of stress are more likely to experience symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.


What is it? What causes it?

Stress is one of the key contributors to symptoms of IBS. Symptoms include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea. It is a chronic condition, meaning long term management is required.

People with IBS have increased bowel sensitivity, and as such, symptoms can be manifested in response to both internal and external stressors. Research indicates stress may result in increased propulsion of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract to a greater degree in those with IBS, compared to those without it.  BK10It is well established that those with anxiety, or other stress related disorders are more likely to suffer from IBS. When I work with clients to determine triggers for IBS, nearly everyone talks about how their symptoms are so much worse when they’re in a stressful situation, be it from being flat out at work, relationship dramas, not sleeping well, or anything else.

Sometimes, it can be a catch 22 situation; worrying about your symptoms can actually sometimes bring them on. Imagine feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and by the end of the day feeling (and looking) like you’re pregnant. Or imagine needing to run out of an important meeting because you could not hold off going to the bathroom. Or imagine being out on a date, and needing to go to the bathroom every ten minutes… Not to mention the frustration of eating ‘healthy’, but still feeling terrible. For many people with IBS, this is what life is often like. No wonder it can be so stressful!

Stress management techniques are something I nearly always talk to my clients about; when it comes to IBS, it is essential to look at the whole package to ensure best management.


So how can we manage stress, that is associated with IBS?

Whilst food is often a trigger (this is where the LOW FODMAP diet can often come into play), some research has shown that relaxation techniques can have a positive impact on IBS symptoms.

Here are some of my favourite recommendations for managing stress:

Do some exercise. Get outside for a walk or run, join a spin class, do a weights session. Exercise has been proven to significantly improve stress

Try meditation. If you want some guidance, I like the apps Calm, Headspace or The Smiling Mind. Some yoga studios offer meditation, and there is also a number of retreats around as well. Or, try colouring in. It is amazing how meditative and relaxing filling pages with colour can be!

Try yoga, either in a class, using an app or through a YouTube video

Do what relaxes YOU; choose something that suits


I thought food was supposed to help manage IBS?

If you thought this, then you are right! For many people, food plays an important role in management of IBS. Experimenting with a low FODMAP diet may help with managing your IBS symptoms, along side stress management. Low FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Foods high in FODMAPs either do not digest properly, or ferment in the gut, causing the symptoms of IBS. Determining which high FODMAP foods are your triggers is essential, to ensure a less restricted diet, and easier management of your IBS.

Management of stress, along with determining food triggers of IBS can help control it.

*Always remember, if you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition, referring on to a suitably qualified psychologist or counsellor is essential.

Sick of feeling unwell? Want to figure out what is triggering your IBS? Join the FODMAP Challenge. The next challenge starts Wednesday, 27th July 2016. For more information, visit:


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Words by

An Accredited Practicing Dietitian who specialises in nutrition for irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances, sports nutrition and inflammatory joint disease.