This is Part Three of a three-part series on anxiety. Part Two gives you four anti-anxiety tips to calm the "alarm center" in your brain.

Did you know that physical stresses can make you anxious even though you may not realize they're affecting you? When you have irritable bowel symptoms, here are seven possible causes of anxiety: dehydration from diarrhea, toxic build-up from constipation, food allergies and intolerances, chemical sensitivity, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and shallow breathing.

Making a few lifestyle changes to deal with these stressors will give you good natural anxiety relief. In addition, they will help to relieve skin rashes and itching, headaches, and fatigue (not to mention digestive problems.) You'll typically have layers of anxiety, so the more possible causes you deal with, the better your chances of staying calm and recovering quickly from anxiety.

1. Drinking enough water is an excellent anxiety treatment whether you suffer from diarrhea or constipation.

With diarrhea, you want to make sure you replace the fluids you lose.

Dehydration is alarming to your brain and body and keeps you from feeling comfortable and relaxed. Adding a few drops of liquid minerals, such as Concentrace or Ion-Mag, to your water will help to replace any electrolytes you’ve lost because of diarrhea. As an anti-anxiety bonus, the magnesium in them tends to be calming. Soluble fiber will help to bulk up the stool and slow down transit time.

With constipation, water and soluble fiber will help to keep things moving through the bowel, preventing a build-up of toxins. Again, the liquid minerals are helpful.

Since we’re on the subject of liquids: How much coffee are you drinking? Or black tea, pop, and other caffeinated drinks? If it’s more than one cup a day, you’re not doing yourself any favours, anxiety-wise. In fact, some people find that cutting out caffeine is their most effective anxiety treatment. But you knew that, right?

2. Food sensitivities can make you anxious. That’s because some foods act as neurotoxins, meaning they affect the signals between your brain and body. Elaine Gottschall mentions a woman who reacted to gluten grains by barking like a dog in her sleep!!! Imagine how stressed this woman’s brain and nervous system must have been to trigger such an odd response. Once the gluten was removed from her diet, the barking stopped.

Okay, you don’t bark in your sleep. But if you are anxious, you need a calming diet without food allergens. The food that works best for your body is also important for natural anxiety treatment.

You can have food sensitivities without having classic allergies. Here are a couple of options for dealing with them. One is to be tested to find out exactly what foods you react to and take them out of your diet.

Or, if testing is not an option for you then start eliminating the top food allergens from your diet: dairy, sugar, wheat and other gluten-containing grains, peanuts, shellfish, soy, sulfites in conventional dried fruit and other processed foods, pork, citrus, caffeine, corn, yeast, and eggs, but especially the first three on this list. Remove foods one at a time, leaving at least a week between foods, so you can observe the effect of each one.

Chocolate causes problems for lots of people. If you get headaches or tend to crave chocolate compulsively, you could be reacting to chocolate. Try a magnesium supplement to help with the craving. The theobromine in chocolate will make you anxious and jittery (I know it did me) because it speeds up your heart rate. If you have diarrhea, chocolate is not your best friend.

Dairy is known to be a problem for people with IBS. When you continue to eat foods you react to, you will become more anxious because it’s very stressful for your body. With gluten, even if you’re not celiac, you have a one-in-three chance of reacting to grains with physical and emotional symptoms, according to Dr. James Braly. A recent German study found micro-inflammation in the mucosa of the bowel in IBS patients. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this is from reactions to foods or chemicals.

3. And speaking of chemicals, while most of us realize that chemical toxins and pollutants are linked to cancer, asthma, heart trouble and degenerative diseases, you may not know that they also trigger emotional problems including anxiety and depression.

The best thing to do is make sure your home environment is chemical-free, especially your bedroom. Sleep is the time your body renews itself, but that can’t happen if your bedroom is full of perfumes and scented products, room deodorizers, plastic bags, dry-cleaned clothes, mothballs, candles (unless they’re beeswax), paint, glue, solvents, particle board, new books and magazines, fresh newspapers or any other product with outgassing chemicals.

And, NO, the chemical toxins don’t stay in the bottle just because you have the lid on. Have you ever walked down the laundry products aisle in the supermarket? Notice that smell? Enough said.

By the way, the digestive system is quite sensitive to chemical toxins. So when you clear out your chemical products and buy natural versions, you will not only lower your anxiety levels, you will also help out your digestion. Definitely a win-win.

4. Get more sleep. As Will Shakespeare put it, “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care...[is the] balm of hurt minds…Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” And he was right!

So correcting your sleep deprivation will help you to feel less anxious. But what if you can’t sleep? Once your bedroom is chemical-free, if you still have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, use tapping on these problems. The video on the Products page shows you how to do this. You’ll find additional tips for better sleep in our Better Sleep Quiz post.

5. The world’s greatest FREE anti-anxiety technique: (drum-roll…) Exercise!

I know. That’s not what you wanted to hear, but it’s true. The body is made for movement and when you don’t get it, weird things happen. You get anxious and depressed and become vulnerable to heart problems, among other health issues.

Exercise releases endorphins – ah, those relaxing neurochemicals! It brings more blood to your brain, so you can think more clearly and have a better memory. And it makes you breathe more deeply. Deep breathing, as you’ll see in tip #6 is a very effective natural anxiety treatment.

When you’re anxious, stress chemicals build up in your system. One of the best and safest ways to release them is through exercise.

Go for a walk outdoors every day. If you can’t do that, put on some great music and dance around your house for fifteen minutes or half an hour.

Or get a rebounder (mini-trampoline) and bounce on it for a few minutes. You don’t have to perform Olympic trampoline feats to get the benefits. Even bouncing lightly will stimulate your immune system, help your lymphatic system to move the toxins out of your body, and make you breathe more deeply, all of which will give you anti-anxiety effects.

In addition to being a natural treatment for anxiety, rebounding helps people with constipation to get things moving.

Where’s the best place in your house for the rebounder? In front of the TV.

Apart from exercise, I would say laughter is the world’s other greatest anti-anxiety treatment. So do everything you can to make yourself laugh. Since you're going to be rebounding in front of the television anyway, watch funny movies and comedy shows. Or read amusing books and find humour sites on the internet. It’s very hard to feel anxious when you’re having a good laugh.

6. Deep breathing – the big easy. I don’t know about you, but if I’m anxious or stressed, I get all speeded up and my heart races. Dr. Daniel Amen says that the way to calm down is to intentionally slow down your heart rate.

How do you do that? Deep breathing.

But not just any old inhale and exhale. What works is to have a short inhale and a longer exhale. For example, if you breathe in to a count of 3, breathe out to a count of 6. Or breathe in to a count of 5 and out to a count of 10. Or whatever count works for you. Long exhalations have been proven to slow your heart rate, which will calm you down.

Teach yourself to notice your breathing, especially when you feel anxious, so you can use your breath to help you feel better.

So there you have it. I’ve used all the anti-anxiety techniques in the last two posts myself and they worked for me. They'll work for you, too.

If you want more in depth information about DIY anxiety treatment, The No IBS Program has a full module to help you calm the anxiety that goes with irritable bowel symptoms AND a bonus audio for general anxiety called “The Anxiety Buster.”

Join the discussion

What do YOU do to calm yourself down when you feel anxious? Leave a comment with your best anti-anxiety tip.

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Go to...

Part One What are the Causes of Anxiety When You Have Irritable Bowel Symptoms?

Part Two Self Treatment for Anxiety - 4 tips to calm the "alarm center" of your brain

A Quick Fix for Anxiety 

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  • shelagh blenkarn

    Great review and reminders. I loved the idea of dancing on yucky weather days.

    Like 0 Short URL:
  • Thanks, Shelagh.

    Get this: it also turns out that dancing is the best exercise for preventing dementia! All that and fun, too!

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  • Myrna Allen

    Orchard Park, NY 14127, USA

    I always use the deep breathing technique. It is also good for when you feel you may be getting an asthma attack or during one. I used to sing a lot of solos in church I always used the deep breathing just before I got up to sing. I now have nodules on my voice box and can no longer sing at this point.

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  • david white

    One glass of wine my friend!

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  • Karen of No IBS

    And then some dancing?

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  • Vicki

    I switched my diet completely when I was first diagnosed IBS. No more caffeine, soda, less gluten, cut out fried food and no more snacks. My IBS has been so much better. I also use chia seeds in almost all my food it has been a huge help.

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  • Pamela

    Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars

    Hi Karen and Kathy
    Love your Blog and thanks for being on your list! The anxiety has been driving me crazy doubting myself and is it IBS or not. Fear of the future. Have printed off all 3 Parts and have been addressing most already.
    Kundalini Breathing Yoga is fantastic, however having the discipline daily with the brain fighting you is not easy.
    Walking for 30 minutes sometimes - do feel much better after that.
    My biggest thing I have to eliminate is the desire to stay in bed most of the morning when I don't have to work. Here in NZ it is now getting very cold, sometimes wet, although the days are sunny are beautiful most of the time through winter. I waste so many hours in bed when I don't need to. I look after my Mum at night so I only get a few hours in the afternoon to do one or two things on my own priority list especially for my business that of course is part of the fear anxiety stuff - if I dont work, I don't have money, don't have a house to live in etc etc.
    I hope my comment will help others, as at night I feel a bit more confident and make plans to change it and see the positive side of the future. The mornings are not as confident.
    I feel so much better than I did (over at least 8 months ago when things went topsy turvy but getting so tired of it hanging over me when I know it is only me that can change it.

    I am very pleased that I stumbled onto your blog.
    Thanks very much
    Regards Pamela

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  • Karen of No IBS

    Hi Pamela,
    Thanks for the kind words! Curious how you stumbled upon our site.

    When you're lying in bed in the winter, one thing you can do to give yourself some energy is to work with your thoughts. Most of us tend to forget that we actually create our thoughts - because we're so used to thinking the same way! But we can change them by becoming conscious of them.

    For example, have you ever caught yourself thinking, "Oh dear, another cold day. I don't feel like getting up. I'm worried about xyz, and I'm anxious about abc." etc.? I used to do that and it was just a habit. So I decided to change my habit, because you can always change your thoughts. They're just thoughts, they're not carved in stone.

    With that in mind, what if you lay in bed and decided you don't have to listen to those old thoughts? What if, instead, you chose to think thoughts like this: "I feel good. This is a great day. I'm so grateful to be alive. I'm so happy I have this nice house to live in. Wow - I actually have a way to work that doesn't demand 12 hours a day. I have all the time in the world. The past is over. All is well in my world. I easily get the important things done. I'm doing really well. I love and approve of myself no matter what." And so forth. If you spent 10 or 15 minutes thinking like this, instead of worrying, how do you think you'd feel?

    Try it as an experiment and let me know.

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  • alice greenspan

    Rated 5 out of 5 stars

    I have gotten some great tips and my IBS, has subsided.Mine was showing up as
    chronic diarrhea. I now follow the Low-Fod-Map Diet, though Ive added more and
    more foods to it. I figured out what works for me and what doesnt. aI also
    take Jarrow's Saccharomyces Boulardi plus MOS. I get it at Whole Foods.Can
    be found at heallth food stores as well.I also eat brown rice pasta every day.
    I take Psyllium pills twice a day and I have gone from aggravating diahrrea to
    a full and healthy experience.I now how debilitating IBS can be. Please share this
    so others may be helped by my results.Low fod-map diet was created by Mayo
    Clinic.It took some work and diligence,but my life is back to normal.

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  • Karen of No-IBS

    Hi Alice,
    Thanks for sharing your great information. S. boulardii is also in kombucha tea, interestingly.

    BTW, I thought the FODMAP diet was developed by Dr. Sue Shepherd in Australia - I know it's quite popular and effective for many people with IBS. Glad you found so much that helps you!

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