If you’ve ever been in an important high-pressure situation only to feel the urge to run and do number two immediately, this might be why. Turns out, Mother Nature has her own natural laxative — and I’m not talking about shredded carrots or prunes. I’m talking about anxiety, fear or excitement that can cause you to need to go to the bathroom ASAP. If you have certain triggers or places that make you go to the bathroom or keep you blocked up, you are not alone. And there is a very reasonable explanation.
Dr. Jennifer Stagg, a biochemist-turned-naturopathic physician and author of the book Unzip Your Genes, tells SheKnows that stimulation of the nervous system or stress response can affect the bowel in two ways. “Adrenaline and CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) can stimulate contractions of the bowel leading to increased motility and the need to go to the bathroom.”
It seems as though our emotions are linked with our digestive system — which makes sense. We all know feelings can change our facial expressions and body language. Feeling nervous, scared or anxious can make our hearts pound and our palms sweat. It only seems natural they affect the rest of our bodies. We’ve all gone through a really stressful time and had a burning stomach or indigestion as a side effect or been upset and couldn’t eat. It seems obvious how we feel on the inside is tied to bodily functions.
Stagg says even though we may feel the urge to go to the bathroom as soon as we have a certain feeling, the link between our brains, emotions and the gut is actually very complex.
Sometimes our can emotions trigger diarrhea, “while other times constipation is the result. This can be explained by the CRF signaling system, there are many different CRF compounds and receptors which lead to varying effects on the bowel,” she says.
And since our emotions are tightly related to digestive function and health, we also know our feelings, whether they are anxious feelings or happy, relaxed feelings, can impact our gut bacteria.
If your emotions are affecting your digestion and this starts to become an inconvenience and interfere with you going out and enjoying things in public, Stagg suggests guided relaxation, meditation, exercise, a healthy diet and a good quality of sleep.
However, if you experience the occasional bowel movement brought on by feelings of anxiety or excitement, you shouldn’t worry — it affects more people than you know, and there is nothing wrong with you just because your favorite store makes you have to run to the loo as soon as you enter.
A version of this story was published October 2017.