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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People in this conversation

  • Melanie

    I am a daily perfume wearer and have been for 20 years. By wearing perfume am I contributing to my toxicity? I wonder if I should stop wearing perfume.

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  • Karen Alison of No IBS

    Hi Melanie,

    This is a great question! Yes, perfume and scents definitely contribute to your toxicity. Unfortunately, the days are long gone when perfume was made from flowers. Now most scents are made from chemicals, with a few exceptions that will tend to be quite expensive.

    Here's what a couple of experts have to say about fragrance.

    Debra Lynn Dadd, a consumer advocate for safe products and author of several books, including "Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise" says this:

    "'Fragrance' on a label can indicate the presence of up to 4,000 separate ingredients that are not listed at all. Most or all of them are synthetic. Symptoms reported to the FDA have included headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, violent coughing and vomiting, and allergic skin irritation. Clinical observation by medical doctors has shown that fragrances can cause all types of central nervous system symptoms including depression, hyperactivity, irritability, inability to cope, and other behavioural changes."

    You'll notice she doesn't mention digestive problems, but the fact is, anything that affects your central nervous system is going to affect your gastro-intestinal process since it is governed by the nervous system.

    In his book, "Healing the Planet One Patient at a Time," Dr. Jozef Krop, a specialist in environmental medicine, lists several of the toxic chemicals in perfume and says that they contribute to a long list of health problems including:
    - gastro-intestinal problems
    - bloating
    - chronic fatigue
    - fibromyalgia
    - multiple chemical sensitivity
    - joint and muscle pain
    - irritability
    - mental vagueness and lost thoughts
    - headaches
    - dizziness
    - swollen lymph nodes
    - eye irritation
    - sore throat, coughing, laryngitis
    - sinus pain
    - spiked blood pressure
    - burning, itching skin

    I know when I stopped wearing perfume, much as I loved it, my digestion and emotional balance improved tremendously and I lost a lot of food cravings, especially for sweets. I also gained more energy.

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  • shelagh blenkarn

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

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  • 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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