Stress is part and part and parcel of life so everybody goes through it every now and then, some more than others. It doesn’t just have an emotional impact on you; it also affects your mental and physical health. In this article, we'll be answering the question 'can stress cause hemorrhoids' and what you can do about it.
What are Hemorrhoids?
Also known as piles, hemorrhoids are swollen or inflamed veins in the anus and rectum. The condition affects about 75% of the American population at some point in their lives. They appear as hard lumps around the anus that cause itchiness, discomfort, and pain especially while sitting or passing stool. Rectal hemorrhoids cause painless bleeding that you’ll notice in the toilet or on tissue after passing stool. When you continue to strain while passing stool, rectal hemorrhoids may protrude outside the anus and cause a lot of discomfort. These are known as prolapsed hemorrhoids.
Hemorrhoids usually develop when a lot of pressure is exerted on the rectum and anus so the blood flow in their veins is interfered with. This can happen because of chronic constipation or diarrhea, prolonged sitting, doing certain strenuous exercises like heavy-lifting, obesity, pregnancy, and eating foods low in fiber. Another factor that predisposes individuals to develop hemorrhoids is aging because the rectal and anal muscles get weak and less capable of withstanding pressure.
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Can Stress Cause Hemorrhoids?
Is there a connection between stress and hemorrhoids? Well, the short answer is yes and we'll see how this is.
Stress is an emotional state that directly leads to changes in the body because the brain receives signals that you need to protect yourself by going into ‘fight or flight’ mode. These changes include increased heart rate, breathing rate, and a burst of energy from adrenaline, all geared towards ensuring your survival. The nervous system responsible for this process is the sympathetic nervous system. When you’re no longer in danger, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and slows the body down. This is the good kind of stress that not only helps you survive danger but accomplish urgent tasks.
When your body goes into survival mode because of stress, it stops or slows down systems in the body that are not vital at the moment, including digestion, to divert energy to responding to danger. However, this state is not supposed to be sustained; it should only appear in emergency situations. When you’re constantly stressed because of work, school, or other aspects of your social life, you end up prolonging the survival mode which results in a lot of health problems. One of those problems is the disruption of digestive functioning.
Stress causes digestion to slow down or stop completely and this results in issues like bloating, heartburn stomach upsets, and constipation. Stress can also speed up digestion and cause diarrhea which is why some people experience stomach cramps and diarrhea when they are stressed or anxious. When you are constantly stressed, this can easily lead to chronic constipation and diarrhea. As aforementioned, chronic constipation and diarrhea are one of the causal factors of hemorrhoids. They also cause the flare-ups of existing hemorrhoids. This is because the rectum and anus are subjected to a lot of strain when passing stool and their blood vessels may consequently swell.
Another interesting thing to note is that when you’re stressed, you unconsciously tighten your sphincter muscles of the rectum and this makes it harder to pass stool.
Therefore, stress causes hemorrhoids and aggravates them.
How to Relieve and Manage Stress
We’ve seen that stress is sometimes good for you so you can’t eliminate it completely from your life. Besides, no one has a perfect life so stress is bound to get to you once in a while. All the same, you can manage your stress levels to prevent the development of hemorrhoids. It will also effectively help treat existing hemorrhoids that are caused by stress since their root cause is dealt with. Here are ways you can do that:
Getting physically active is one of the best ways to relieve and manage stress. It helps you release feel-good hormones which are in direct conflict with stress so they can’t coexist. Exercise also makes you refocus your attention on body movements so stress takes the back seat. Exercises you can engage in to relieve stress include walking, jogging, swimming, or getting chores done around the house.
When you’re stressed, you take shallow and rapid breaths. Breathing exercises mimic how you breathe when you’re relaxed so it tricks your brain into relaxing. Deep breathing is one of the best ways to relieve stress because it signals your brain to slow down your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, all of which are elevated when you’re stressed.
Stress interferes with the quality of sleep you get and this directly affects your stress levels. Stress keeps you up at night, thinking about many things while sleeping regularly gives the brain time to recharge and so regulate your moods.
If you’re having trouble going to sleep, establish a consistent bedtime schedule, listen to soothing music, and make your bedtime as quiet and relaxing as possible.
Journaling gives you an opportunity to release pent-up emotions that if you had done nothing about, could have exploded into full-blown stress and anxiety. Write whatever comes to mind paying little attention to your grammar and spelling. When you’re done, destroy the paper or keep it for later reflection.
Listen to Good Music
Listening to good music relieves stress because it decreases muscle tension, decreases stress hormones, and distracts you from your stressful thoughts. If music is not your thing, you can opt for other hobbies such as painting, gardening, or sewing.
Meditation involves focusing on particular mental imagery, thoughts, or activities so that you can achieve awareness, mindfulness, peace, and balance your physical and emotional well-being. It's very effective in reducing stress levels.
Don’t Take On Too Much
You can only do so much at any point in time. Teach yourself to say no when you have a lot on your plate and can’t take any more. Delegate some tasks to others so that you don’t collapse under too much stress.
Avoid Eating When Stressed
Avoid eating when you’re stressed and anxious to prevent digestion problems. Avoid talking about the things that are stressing you to keep mealtimes calm and peaceful.
Have a Good Sense of Humour
It’s said that laughter is the best remedy and this is certainly true for stress. It releases the tension in you and gives you a good feeling. Go out of your way to watch, read and tell some jokes or hang out with funny friends.
See a Therapist
If your stress is overwhelming you even after taking steps of self-care, consider seeking the help of a therapist. This is especially important if your stress and anxiety are interfering with the performance of your daily tasks. A therapist will help you identify why you’re stressed and help you cope with it.
How to Deal with Stress Hemorrhoids
Whether through stress or other causes, if you already have hemorrhoids, you can do something to relieve their pain, irritation, bleeding, and itchiness:
Fresh aloe vera gel can be applied directly to hemorrhoids. It has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antibacterial effects that will soothe and speed up the healing of the hemorrhoids.
Anti-hemorrhoid products such as creams, ointments, liquids, repositories, wipes, or gels are readily available in local pharmacies. They are made with ingredients like hydrocortisone that relieve hemorrhoid symptoms. Find them here.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a natural and potent remedy with anti-inflammatory and analgesic benefits. It helps with the discomfort of hemorrhoids, pain, and irritation. Dilute it with water before use because it will irritate your hemorrhoids when applied directly.
Hemorrhoids hurt the most when you're done with nowel movements. A sitz bath is fitted over the toilet so that you can soak in its warm water and get relief. It improves blood flow in the anus so inflammation is reduced and soothes the itchiness and pain of your hemorrhoids.
Eat More Fiber
The American Heart Association recommends that you eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber on a daily basis. It adds bulk to stool and softens it so you don't strain as you move your bowels. Taking fiber supplements like psyllium is also recommended.
Water mixes with soluble fiber to form a substance that smoothens it. Therefore, make sure you drink at least 6 glasses of water daily.
Engaging in intense physical activities improves your digestion and facilitates the quick passage of stool down the digestive tract before it hardens. Exercising also keeps your weight in check so that it doesn't exert too much pressure on the pelvis and cause hemorrhoids.
Lubricating your stool helps it come out of the digestive tract easily. You can do this by mixing a tablespoon of mineral oil with applesauce or yogurt to take once a day at mealtime. You should be moderate in taking this route because it can lead to the leakage of stool and just to be sure, put a liner in your undergarments.
Lift Your Feet
When you sit on the toilet, place your feet on a stool so that your feet are elevated. This position gives the rectum and anus a direct route stool can easily come out of.
Don't Waste Time
Never ignore the natural urge to move your bowels. The stool in the system ends up hardening and making it difficult to pass it out.
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Stress is unavoidable but letting it become part of your everyday life is not good for both your physical and mental health. If you let it get out of hand, you have to deal with hemorrhoids are less than pleasant. Do your best to avoid them by managing your stress levels in the ways outlined above. If you discovered this a little too late and you already have hemorrhoids, don’ fret because they are very treatable from the comfort of your home. If they persist, be sure to see your doctor for alternative methods of getting rid of them like rubber band ligation. You have the freedom to opt between surgical and non-surgical removal procedures. Moving forward, you know that stress and hemorrhoids are not the best combinations and you need to take steps to combat that. Pursue a stress-free life and be mindful of the food and the habits you have.