Living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be tough and demoralising. Try these strategies to help alleviate your symptoms and enjoy a better life.
Feeling anxious can have a very obvious impact on your mental well-being. However, it’s worth noting the toll these feelings can take on your body too. In particular, anxiety-related irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can leave you feeling sluggish, tired, and unwell.
The stress caused by anxiety and IBS can impact your immune system, upset your digestive tract, and even change your hormone production. IBS, also known as spastic colon, is a chronic condition that causes gastrointestinal discomfort, bloating, erratic bowel movements, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. It is usually diagnosed when these symptoms are observed without an underlying medical issue.
Before You Diagnose Yourself With IBS, Don’t
Self-diagnosis is never a good idea and can often leave you feeling more stressed and unwell than you were to begin with.
If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is imperative that you check with your physician. Many conditions – both harmless and harmful – cause the same symptoms as IBS, so it’s important that a healthcare professional rule these out for the sake of your own well-being and peace of mind.
What Is Causing Your IBS?
The true cause of IBS is not totally understood. Several factors are thought to be at play, including genetics and adverse mental and physical experiences such as trauma or infection. Either way, the symptoms come to the fore due to disturbances in colonic motility and an increased sensitivity to food.
There is also a tendency for the bowel to be reactive to various emotional states, such as stress and anxiety, which can result in an amplification of symptoms.
The disturbed patterns of colonic motility appear to be caused by disruptions in the communication between the brain and the gut. These interactions are important to the maintenance of normal bowel function.
For sufferers of IBS, normal communication between the brain and the gut becomes altered, leading to changes in colonic motility and unpleasant sensations within the bowel.
How to Alleviate the Effects of Anxiety and IBS
The reality is that IBS is an upsetting and somewhat embarrassing disorder; those with the disorder often spend a great deal of time in the bathroom. The physical impact, including bloating and abdominal pain, only serves to fuel feelings of anxiety. And, because doctors still don’t understand what causes IBS, it is difficult to treat and cure it outright.
That’s why making positive lifestyle changes and taking strides to reduce and control your anxiety can actually help alleviate the symptoms of IBS, leading to a better, healthier, and more fulfilling life.
For those of you who struggle with IBS, the following strategies offer a way to curtail how IBS affects your life. While not the cure so many IBS sufferers crave, these ideas can make living with anxiety and IBS much more manageable.
1. Keep a Food Diary
Food intolerances can cause your IBS symptoms to flare up at a moment’s notice, so it’s essential that you pinpoint the elements of your diet that make your IBS worse. The best way to do this is by keeping a strict food diary to keep track of what you eat and the impact it has on your symptoms.
An IBS food diary is also very handy for your doctor or nutritionist to review, as they are often better placed to pick up on how your eating patterns and diet affect your health and well-being.
2. Eat These Foods
Improving your diet and consuming foods that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, beans, cereals, fruits and vegetables, may be of benefit. This is because these foods are healthier for your colon and, therefore, improve the flow of your digestive tract.
Just be sure to prepare them in a way that won’t reduce their nutritional value.
You might also consider consuming probiotic dietary supplements, which manufacturers claim can improve your digestive health. Containing so-called “friendly bacteria,” they are supposed to restore your gut’s natural balance.
3. Cut Down On or Avoid These Foods
Beyond cutting out the foods you’ve identified as exacerbating your symptoms, it makes sense to stay the course with your healthier diet and cut down on (or eliminate entirely) typically unhealthy foodstuffs.
Food that is full of fat or has been fried, dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, and soda should all be consumed in moderation or avoided completely as they are more difficult to digest and tougher on your bowels.
4. Don’t Skip Meals
Eating better doesn’t mean eating less, so make sure you don’t skip meals. It won’t help you lose weight – quite the opposite, in fact, as it slows down your metabolism. It also has a negative impact on your gastrointestinal system. So, instead of skipping meals, you should…
5. Eat Smaller Meals
Eating a very large meal puts your body under a great deal of stress as it tries to digest all that additional food. By eating a smaller meal instead, your body can digest the food more efficiently and, therefore, put less pressure on your digestive tract and bowels.
6. Go Natural
A number of natural remedies, such as peppermint oil, chamomile, and ginger, have been linked to reduced gastrointestinal discomfort. You might also try other natural methods for relieving anxiety.
(Note: You should always speak with your doctor before taking natural supplements to ensure they won’t interfere with preexisting conditions or current medications.)
In summary, Irritable Bowel Syndrome doesn’t have to take control of your life. The syndrome is made worse by stress and anxiety, and by slowly overcoming those symptoms and relieving anxiety you can begin to feel normal again. By eating better and taking steps to prevent feelings of stress, you will be moving in the right direction when it comes to managing your IBS symptoms.
Have you suffered from anxiety and IBS? Have you tried any of these strategies to alleviate your symptoms? Did they work? Tell us in the comments.