Exams stress loosens bowels


October 29, 2018

Dear Readers,

TJ says she is a sixth form student attending a Kingston school and she often gets diarrhoea before taking exams. She would like to know why this happens and how best to deal with it, as it is a real problem.

Digestion issues tend to be one of the most common problems people experience when they are anxious, and diarrhoea is very commonly seen as a result of anxiety attacks and chronic stress.

Anxiety has a strong effect on the intestinal wall muscles and diarrhoea can present as a sign that a person is suffering with anxiety. Anxiety activates the body's fight-or-flight system. Stress causes adrenaline (one of the fight-or-flight hormones) to be released throughout the body. One result of this is an alteration in the function of our bowels. Water is not filtered properly and food is not processed well. This leads to diarrhoea and other bowel conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Anxiety issues can be so severe that they put a lot of stress and pressure on the physical body. In the heart, it causes palpitations; in the bowel, it will cause diarrhoea.


Anti-diarrhoeal treatment medications, such as Imodium, will work for many, but not all, individuals and can be prescribed for use when the onset of sudden diarrhoea is feared. A healthy lifestyle will generally help as this places emphasis on diet, exercise, and a healthy mind and body. Inherent in this is some emphasis on a calm, peaceful mood as a way of life. This may be a long-term approach but is very worthwhile in the long run.

To prevent anxiety-caused diarrhoea, you will need to prevent the anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication can be prescribed by your doctor for short-term use. In addition:

• Exercise more: Exercise is a wonderful anti-anxiety strategy! It can take your mind off worrisome topics and also helps move food through your intestines at a better pace. It keeps you healthier.

• Keep your breathing slow and measured. Hyperventilation is often a part of panic attacks. Yes, keep breathing slow.

• Listen to music, talk with friends, and keep distracted. Do not focus on the exams or on the stomach.

• Be well prepared for your exams. Do the work. Feel confident.

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