Connection between Anxiety and IBS: Seeking Relief

Lisa Cartlidge Hypnotherapy, Gloucestershire
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Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can make daily life challenging and frustrating. 

The physical symptoms of IBS, such as upset stomach, abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel movements, can significantly impact one's quality of life. 

Interestingly, many individuals with IBS also struggle with symptoms of an anxiety disorder, these can include constant anxious thoughts and worry, restlessness, racing heart rate and panic attacks.  

People will often say “anxiety and IBS are ruining my life”.  It can cause you to avoid social situations, becoming withdrawn and isolated, you can struggle to focus and become irritable. 

In this blog, we will delve into the strong link between anxiety and IBS, the impact of anxiety on the body's fight or flight response, the role of the gut-brain axis, and explore the potential treatment of IBS through the use of Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy.

The Fight or Flight Response:

The exact cause of IBS is often unknown. But there appears to be a connection between the stress response and IBS.  

The gut is often referred to as the second brain. When the body is under chronic stress, the brain believes we are in danger and therefore triggers the body's fight or flight response.  

This response is an adaptive mechanism designed to prepare us to face danger or escape from it. During this response, the body redirects energy from non-essential functions, such as digestive tract functions, to essential functions needed for survival. 

As a result, digestion is put on hold, leading to disruptions in bowel movement and exacerbating uncomfortable symptoms of IBS, such as stomach pain and irregular bowel habits.

The Gut-Brain Axis:

The gut-brain connection is a bidirectional communication system between the gut and the brain. It involves a complex network of nerves, hormones, and neurotransmitters. 

One crucial neurotransmitter involved in this connection is serotonin. Surprisingly, approximately 95% of serotonin, often referred to as the "happy hormone," is produced in the gut. 

Serotonin plays a vital role in regulating mood, anxiety, and gastrointestinal tract function. Therefore, any disturbances in the gut-brain axis, including imbalances in serotonin levels, can contribute to the development or worsening of both anxiety and IBS symptoms.

The Link Between Anxiety and IBS:

Anxiety and IBS often form a vicious cycle. The distress caused by IBS symptoms can trigger symptoms of anxiety, while anxiety, in turn, can exacerbate IBS symptoms. 

The constant worry about experiencing embarrassing or painful symptoms can cause higher levels of anxiety, leading to increased stress and further aggravation of IBS symptoms. 

This interplay between anxiety and IBS can significantly impact an individual's overall well-being and quality of life.

It is often recognised by people who suffer with IBS that their IBS flare-ups are often during times of high stress and anxiety.  

Five Self-Help strategies for Anxiety and IBS:

These self-help treatments are recognised to reduce anxiety and therefore be beneficial for individuals struggling with both anxiety and IBS:

1. Practice Stress Management Techniques:

Engaging in stress management techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga can calm the parasympathetic nervous systems by promoting relaxation. By managing stress effectively, the impact on the gut-brain axis can be minimised, potentially alleviating IBS symptoms.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet:

A healthy diet plays a crucial role in supporting gut health. Consuming a balanced diet rich in fibre, fruits, vegetables, and probiotic-rich foods can help increase beneficial gut microbiome and promote better digestion. This can lead to a reduction in IBS symptoms and may positively impact anxiety levels as well.

3. Regular Physical Activity:

Engaging in regular physical activity can have numerous benefits for both anxiety and IBS. Exercise helps release endorphins, which are natural mood boosters, and can reduce anxiety levels. Additionally, physical activity can stimulate intestinal contractions and promote regular bowel movements, potentially reducing IBS symptoms.

4. Prioritise Sleep:

Getting enough quality sleep is essential for overall well-being and can play a significant role in managing both anxiety and IBS symptoms. Establishing a consistent sleep routine and creating a conducive sleep environment can help improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety levels, leading to better management of IBS symptoms.

5. Seek Support:

Seeking support from friends and family can provide an invaluable source of understanding and encouragement. Sharing experiences can help alleviate anxiety and provide emotional support in managing IBS symptoms.

Implementing these self-help strategies can have a profound impact on individuals struggling with anxiety and IBS. 

These strategies aim to reduce anxiety levels, support gut health, improve overall well-being, and help individual's to cope with the challenges posed by both anxiety and IBS.

Enhanced Support for Anxiety and IBS: 

If you have been to the doctors and explored all the self-help, maybe it may be worth exploring the potential of Gut Directed Hypnotherapy, an evidence based approach (research by Peter Whorwell).

Hypnotherapy has been proven to be an effective treatment plan for ibs, it has been found to be 90% successful in reducing ibs symptoms in the long term (2 years), as well as increasing general well-being and quality of life.

Client feedback

"My stomach has been a lot better. I have buscopan at times if my stomach is funny but it’s not stopping me at all. I feel much more in control and don’t really think about travelling in the car now. I occasionally have a word with myself but it’s far less frequent."

Gut Directed Hypnotherapy is an evidence based therapeutic technique that combines hypnosis with psychological intervention, and has gained recognition as a potential treatment option for IBS. 

It aims to address the underlying psychological and emotional factors contributing to IBS symptoms, including anxiety. 

Hypnotherapy sessions typically involve psychotherapy, relaxation techniques, guided imagery, and positive suggestions to help individuals gain control over their symptoms and reduce anxiety levels.

Hypnotherapy is recognised in the NICE guidelines to be one of the effective treatments in managing IBS symptoms by targeting the gut-brain axis. As an IBS therapist using hypnotherapy, I can help you achieve a deep relaxation to reduce anxiety and stress levels, thereby alleviating the impact on the digestive system.

It can also assist in rewiring negative thought patterns and promoting a positive mindset, leading to improved overall well-being.

If you would like further information on Gut-Directed Hypnotherapy, please visit my website or feel free to reach out to me for an informal chat.

Consult with your doctor

The most important thing prior to seeking therapy is to consult with your doctor in the first instance, they can conduct the necessary tests and examinations to rule out any potential medical condition such as Crohn's Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Endometriosis to name a few, once these have been ruled out, alternative therapies are appropriate and can be very effective.


If you find yourself saying anxiety and IBS are ruining my life, understanding the link between the two can be crucial in finding effective relief. The fight or flight response triggered by anxiety can disrupt digestion, exacerbating IBS symptoms. 

The intricate gut-brain axis, including the production of serotonin in the gut, further highlights the connection between anxiety and IBS. Exploring alternative therapies like hypnotherapy can provide a holistic approach to managing both anxiety and IBS symptoms. 

By addressing the underlying psychological factors and promoting relaxation, hypnotherapy can foster resilience, reduce anxiety, and potentially improve overall life satisfaction. Remember, seeking professional guidance is essential in finding the most suitable treatment approach for your individual needs.

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About The Author

Lisa Cartlidge is a qualified hypnotherapist in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire.

With over 3,000 hours of experience, my approach differs from traditional counselling as I primarily work in a solution-focused manner.

While we can appreciate the past and its impact, we cannot change it. Instead, I help you to focus on creating the future you desire, leaving you calmer, more confident, and empowered to achieve your goals and dreams.
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