Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder with about two in 10 people in the UK being affected by it, with women being twice as likely to have it. Sufferers of IBS will be familiar with the symptoms of painful bloating, cramping, diarrhea and constipation that can rear its ugly head frequently. The regular toilet trips and stomach issues can be painful and embarrassing at times to live with.
Suffering from a chronic illness can be tough enough, combined with an anxiety disorder and stress, it can be a heavy weight to bear. However, the long-term condition can be kept in check by managing your lifestyle, stress and diet.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with IBS or have long been affected by the condition, then you’ll have been told that lifestyle choices play a big part in it. IBS can impact people differently and someone going through a particularly bad flare-up may be triggered by the smallest of things. Having said that, stress and feeling anxious can have a massive effect on your IBS.
Currently, there is no known specific cause for IBS but research into the link between the brain and the gut is strong. Experts suggest that people suffering from IBS have higher sensitivities to stress and certain foods. It’s suggested that those with IBS can frequently suffer from anxiety and depression which in turn worsens the symptoms. The colon is a part of the body that is controlled by the nervous system which is what responds to stress.
Having IBS can cause imbalances between the brain and gut according to an article published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. With stress and anxiety sometimes triggering overactivity in your gut, resulting in diarrhea and stomach cramps. Whereas in others, the brain is underactive meaning the gut slows down causing constipation and discomfort.
The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse estimates that roughly 70% of people with IBS are not receiving treatment. Treatment advised for it can range from relaxation techniques for stress to fiber supplements to help ease constipation. While there isn’t a cure for IBS at the moment, there are ways to manage and reduce it and sometimes even eliminate feelings of discomfort.
Anxiety and Stress Management
As stress and anxiety can trigger IBS flare-ups and cause the onset of unpleasant stomach cramps and bloating, it’s important to learn how to manage your stress levels. By easing your feelings of anxiety and managing your reaction to stress and coping with the situation, you can help your IBS symptoms. Despite being a common condition, it doesn’t make it any less painful to have and it can have a big impact on your daily decisions. It’s no fun having to be close to a toilet all day as you’re experiencing severe symptoms.
To help manage your stress, look towards certain exercise and tools to help. Doing exercise of any kind is a great stress-reducing technique. Whether you love to run, walk, swim or battle it out at the gym. Exercise is a fantastic way to manage stress and anxiety. It also helps your bowel to contract normally instead of overreacting.
With the mind and the body linked so intrinsically, it’s great to focus on mind-body exercises. Try tai chi, yoga or relaxation breathing. In a study solely performed on women, researchers found that yoga has an effective role in reducing depression, stress and anxiety. Keeping in line with mindfulness-based activities, try meditation and mindfulness. Meditation can help to change the structure of the brain but in a healthy way. One study, published in the Psychological Bulletin looked at 163 different studies and found that having a mindfulness or meditation practice produced beneficial results. The biggest improvements were in areas such as anxiety, stress and negative personality traits. Another study focusing on a wide range of anxiety, found mindfulness to be an effective management tool.
Relaxation may look different for everyone so focus on what relaxes only you. Try doing this activity twice a week to begin with and see how it makes you feel. Take time for yourself and manage your anxiety and stress effectively.
Be Prepared for Future IBS Flare-Ups
When you can feel an aggressive IBS bout coming on, try and stay calm. Try using various relaxation methods and find the one that is most effective for you. Everyone is different and IBS triggers differ from person to person. It may help to keep a symptom diary. This way you can keep track of when your IBS is at its worse. You can then plan your day around this. If you feel it the most in the morning then perhaps starting your day an hour later would work for you. This would mean feeling the worst while you’re at home if you have the flexibility.
Just because you have IBS doesn’t mean you need to be plagued with symptoms forever. It’s all about finding a way of managing it that’s right for you. Think about a long-term lifestyle change. Whether that means practicing yoga and meditation every day to help prevent IBS flare-ups in the future or eliminating certain foods from your diet.
When you’re first diagnosed with IBS it can seem a little overwhelming when faced with all these things that you may have to change in your life. Through managing your stress and anxiety levels to ensuring your diet doesn’t contain any triggering items. When it comes to what you’re eating, keep a food diary to begin with to see if any foods, in particular, have a nasty effect. Common foods that may trigger IBS include dairy, gluten and caffeine but you may be sensitive to other foods also.
IBS can cause you to swing between constipation and diarrhea. Which means you may need to ingest more dietary fiber to help ease constipation. Both are extremes and can be awful at times. Certain foods that are high in fiber that may improve your symptoms include vegetables, whole grains, beans and fruit. All these foods are healthy for your colon and will help to improve the flow of your digestive tract. Eating smaller meals but more often can also be beneficial. As your body experiences more stress when breaking down food and moving it through your digestive system.
There’s a clear link between keeping your stress under control and easing IBS symptoms. There are a number of ways to help manage your IBS, some may work and some may not. If you continue to feel extremely anxious, then talk therapy might be an option for you. I understand feeling stressed and anxious is hard enough in itself. Throwing IBS into the mix can make it all seem a bit too much.
The key to managing your IBS is learning what triggers you, whether that’s heavy carbohydrates or stress. Understanding how your lifestyle can impact your IBS and learning what steps you need to take to improve your symptoms. If you suspect you may be suffering from IBS or need help, remember to speak to your doctor. He or she can offer you treatment advice and more information on the condition.