How to Deal With IBS Diarrhea Urgency

If you have diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), you know well the feeling of panic that can accompany the sensation of impending diarrhea. The anxiety of not making it to a restroom in time can make the feeling worse, increasing abdominal cramping and intensifying the sense of urgency.

Luckily there are some things that you can do when experiencing IBS diarrhea urgency to help calm your system until you can safely make your way to a bathroom.

Serious young woman lying on sofa

Keep Your Gut in Check With a Pep Talk

Our bodies, especially our guts, are very attuned to what we are thinking and feeling. When we talk to ourselves in a panicked way, our bodies respond by kicking on the stress response system. Unfortunately, the body is programmed to loosen bowel control in emergencies as part of the fight-or-flight response.

You can use this knowledge of the workings of your digestive system to your advantage. Talking calmly to yourself will encourage your body to "turn off" the alarm system.

In using calming self-talk, you want to think about talking to yourself the way you would talk to a close friend who was upset or agitated. Be kind, supportive, and encouraging.

  • "I need to try to stay calm. Let me breathe deeply and try to be more relaxed as I make my way to a bathroom."
  • "The calmer I stay, the calmer my body will be."
  • "I need to have faith in my body, that it will not let loose until I am safely on the toilet."

These may sound a little cheesy, but repeating these affirmations and reminders can really help.

Use whatever phrase or words of encouragement that work to help you stay calm and focused until you reach a restroom.

Don't Try to Empty

Some people with IBS-D try to empty their bowels, believing this will reduce the probability of diarrhea. But the bowels are never completely empty; the body always is producing a new stool. And constantly trying to empty will result in looser stools every time, which is harder for the body to contain. So by trying to go until you're empty is more likely to backfire than to help with the diarrhea problem.

Use Deep Breathing Techniques

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is shown to significantly reduce temporary anxiety. In fact, self-administered cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to provide short-term relief of IBS symptoms. The nice thing about the use of deep breathing techniques, in contrast to other relaxation techniques, is that they can be used anywhere, anytime, without anyone else knowing. Like all skills, the more you practice, the better you will be.

Remember Bathroom Accidents Are Rare

For a person with a digestive issue that causes diarrhea, there's always the fear of not reaching a toilet in time. However, such accidents are fairly rare. Your body has been trained since you were very young to hold stool in until you are seated on the toilet. So if you're freaking out because you don't think you can hold it, just remember the odds are in your favor.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  2. Lackner JM, Jaccard J, Krasner SS, Katz LA, Gudleski GD, Holroyd K. Self-administered cognitive behavior therapy for moderate to severe irritable bowel syndrome: clinical efficacy, tolerability, feasibility. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2008;6(8):899-906. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2008.03.004

Additional Reading
  • Stress and the Gastrointestinal Tract American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 2011 4:G519-G524.

  • Ford, A., American College of Gastroenterology Monograph on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Idiopathic Constipation American Journal of Gastroenterology 2014 109:S2-S26.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.