How A Pandemic Affects Your Poop And How To Deal With It

Experts explain why your bowel movements may be messed up during the coronavirus lockdown.

From how we work to how we grieve to what we do for “fun,” the fallout of the coronavirus has touched every aspect of our lives. Staying at home has undoubtedly altered our routines, and for some, even the ease and comfort with which we poop has been impacted by the pandemic.

So what gives? If you’ve noticed changes in your bowel movements over the past month or so, you might be wondering why this biological function — that often comes like clockwork — has decided to get weird. Turns out there are a number of factors that can plunge your regularity into chaos, and, unfortunately, many of the changes due to our new pandemic lifestyles have created a perfect storm for unpredictable and unfavorable poos.

To better understand exactly why such things are going on in the bathroom, HuffPost spoke with some experts on the matter. Below are some reasons you might be experiencing what we can call nothing else besides a “pandemic poop.”

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Your exercise routine has changed

If your sweat sessions have been cut short — or cut completely — since the onset of isolation, you’re not alone. Gyms are closed, and in many parts of the country, it can feel nearly impossible to maintain 6 feet of social distance while out on a run. This decrease in physical movement may have an effect on your bowel movements; namely that they’re happening less often.

“Our activity is significantly tied to bowel regularity,” Jean Marie Houghton, a gastroenterologist with UMass Memorial Health Care, told HuffPost.

Houghton added that physical activity tends to put our bowels in motion, which is why some runners get diarrhea. Becoming a bit more sedentary, which is somewhat unavoidable for many of us, “tends to slow things down,” Houghton said.

Exercise is “a big deal” when it comes to regularity, said Mark Donowitz, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “That’s the biggest change for a lot of people, who normally go to work and do their 10,000 steps or go to the gym — none of that is available,” he said.

Fortunately, there are a ton of free resources and recommendations for workouts at home. Taking your workouts to your bedroom floor may not get everything back to the way it was moving before isolation, but it can’t hurt to try.

You’re eating differently

Eating at home for every meal has probably changed your diet, whether you’re snacking on tons of carbs and sweets, or subsisting on the vegetables you’ve grown from your window sill, or relying on takeout from a local restaurant.

What we eat directly impacts how we poop, so a shift in what goes in will naturally lead to a change in what comes out.

“Most people have figured out what’s good for the bowel habits they want to live with, and clearly the food is not as available,” said Donowitz, adding that even if you have your perfect poop meals down to a science, it’s likely you don’t have the same access to that food that you previously did.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are natural laxatives, plus they have a lot of fiber,” Donowitz continued, “so if people are not eating them, they can certainly become more constipated.”

If you’re struggling to access poop-inducing produce, remember that frozen is just as good as fresh in that regard, and many canned options can get the job done, too.

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You’re drinking more

Quarantinis, Zoom happy hours, drinking cosmos a la Ina Garten — whatever you’re having, it’s probably having an effect on your regularity.

“Alcohol in small amounts can speed up motility and cause diarrhea for some people, while large quantities can cause constipation,” Houghton said.

Booze can also “be an irritant to the stomach and intestines and may cause pain, bloating and reflux,” she added. If any of this sounds familiar, you might try reducing your consumption to see if you can find some relief.

You’re feeling stressed

Here’s the big one: The pandemic has turned our world upside down. We’ve been punted from our comforting routines and forced into new ones we never wanted and to which we’re still adjusting.

This “new normal” is anything but, and any attempt to acclimate, resist or to just “be” may lead to stress, anxiety, deep existential dread, lack of sleep, exhaustion, fear … you name it.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, the emotional duress can influence the state of our poop. As Houghton put it, “the hormones and neurotransmitters involved with stress can affect the motility of the gut and cause a multitude of symptoms,” including cramps, diarrhea and constipation. Woo hoo.

Stress, it’s important to note, may affect your regularity differently than that of your friends or family.

“It’s not one way or the other — some people have [fewer] bowel movements, some have more,” Donowitz said. “Some people will get more diarrhea, some people get more constipation.”

If things are especially rough down there, you might find relief in some over-the-counter aids. A fiber supplement or powder can be helpful if constipation is your issue, Donowitz said, and medicines like Imodium can come in handy if diarrhea is the villain of your story.

The best thing you can do for yourself, however your body has decided to mess up your bathroom break, is to find something that provides you with some semblance of relief. For some, that may be meditating with an app for a few minutes a day; for others, that may be a daytime nap or chatting on the phone with a loved one.

Many things that used to come regularly — poop and otherwise — may currently be disrupted because “a lot of our habits depend upon other cues, such as our morning coffee [or] our morning walk,” Houghton said.

It’s unlikely that all of your routines are available right now, but hold on to what you still do have and love — pets, family, friends, a favorite TV show, a mood-boosting song, a city-wide clap for essential workers — and give yourself the space and the time to revel in them.

Your bowels will thank you.

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