Does Stress Affect IBD?

Last updated: February 2020

Have you ever noticed that your inflammatory bowel disease tends to get worse during times when you’re under a lot of stress or perhaps when you’re trying something new? For me, I had a major recurrence of symptoms during my first semester of college and I always noticed some worsening of symptoms during exam time. I also dealt with more severe issues when I started my first job and moved away from all of my family and friends. Could these events have contributed to my worsening of symptoms or are they merely coincidence? Let’s look at what we know about stress and IBD.

Is there a cause of Crohn's or UC?

First of all, the cause of inflammatory bowel disease is not known. Plenty of studies that have shown some correlation to genetics and environmental factors, but no true cause has been determined. Stress is not considered a cause of IBD but rather may have an impact on symptoms after diagnosis.

There have been multiple studies that suggest a relationship between stress and IBD, however, it has been neither proven nor disproven that there is a direct impact on IBD symptoms. This is a difficult topic to study for many reasons, specifically because stress is a difficult entity to measure. How does one major stressful situation compare to multiple small stressful situations? And since stress often comes on quickly and without warning, setting up scientific studies are very difficult. So while the scientific study does suggest there is some relationship, we do not yet have a clear picture.

The link between IBD and stress

Regardless of this, there are many people, myself included, who notice an increase in symptoms when they experience an increase in stress. And then the worsening symptoms lead to more stress and the whole cycle repeats itself.

So if you’re one of those who feel that stress has a negative impact on your IBD symptoms, it’s important to find ways to help control your stress level. Here are some ideas of how you can do this. (Note: None of these techniques are meant to replace a medical treatment of your symptoms, but rather to work with your current treatment to help reduce stress and tension.)

Ways to help control stress

Breathing exercises or meditation:

When you start to feel stressed or overwhelmed, take some time for a few deeps breaths. It’s amazing how much that extra oxygen can help calm you down and help you to think more clearly. Plus, it slows you down from making a quick judgment on something and allows you to consider more options, rather than moving straight into being overwhelmed. You can also set aside some regular time for meditation, which has been shown to be an effective coping strategy for some.


Physical activity can be a great way to release tension and help you loosen your muscles. It also produces endorphins, which can actually provide pain relief. Yoga, in particular, can help provide stress relief and combines both physical activity and breathing exercises.

Remove stressful things from your life or learn to say ‘no’:

If possible, remove the things that are causing stress in your life. Sometimes you have to cut your losses if something is causing more harm then help. Try to be honest if there’s something you need to cut out. But of course, there are many things that cause stress that you are unable to avoid. Living with IBD, for one. So if you are already feeling stressed, try to learn how to say ‘no’ to any new things that would add to that. I don’t mean to say no to everything, but simply the things that would add to your stress level.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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