It’s often reported that 21st Century life has caused previously unknown conditions to become increasingly common. It seems working longer days, being constantly attached to technology and juggling multiple roles rapidly increases our overall stress levels – the result of which is detrimental to our health. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS, is one of those conditions that’s commonly associated with ‘modern life’, but it’s a misconception that it’s directly caused by stress; it isn’t, but stressful situations or moments can exasperate the symptoms and cause even more discomfort than normal. IBS affects between 10 to 15% of the population, making it one of the most common conditions of our times. Although it affects people of all ages, even children, IBS is known to impact twice as many women as men. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but symptoms may result from a disturbance in the way the gut, brain and nervous system interact; the result of this is changes in bowel movements and the associated discomfort in the tummy area.
The impact of IBS can range from mild inconvenience to severe
debilitation, impacting many aspects of a person’s emotional, social and
professional life. Unfortunately it’s also unpredictable; symptoms vary
and are sometimes contradictory – as diarrhoea can alternate with
constipation, bloating being quickly replaced by cramps. Unsurprisingly,
it’s reported that it takes 6-7 years on average for a full medical
diagnosis after the onset of symptoms, with the majority of cases being
completely undiagnosed at all. I can testament to the fact that doctors
struggle with any kind of tummy trouble, having only really been trained
to deal with ‘fixing’ things that are ‘broken’ in the traditional
sense; modern medical training is still concerned only with ailments
that can be cured, rather than managing conditions that mean our bodies aren’t working in the most efficient way.
It took years of unfruitful doctor’s appointments for me to finally opt for a private alternative, which was able to fully diagnose and help treat my endless stomach problems. Because I have a combination of intolerances and mild IBS, it was so hard to identify what the issues were and therefore how to manage them. However, over the last three years I’ve become increasingly in-tune with my tummy and am able to pretty much predict the impact of certain foods and situations on my wellbeing; being put back in control helps me to manage my condition and feel much happier overall. Unfortunately there’s no simple way to overcome symptoms, but you can manage them with simple lifestyle changes and a long-term investment in your personal wellbeing. Some of the main things that have helped me personally have included:
1. Reducing the amount of stress I’m under
It sounds simple enough, but believe me – I know how tricky this can be to implement. It’s important to recognise when you’re having a really stressful day, week or month and give yourself time to chillax. Even if it’s just switching off at 5pm and resolving to spend the evening scoffing treats and chilling in a bath, little things can really make a difference. I’ve made a conscious decision to walk away from situations and relationships that are too stressful, preferring to invest that time and effort into things I really enjoy (such as reading or drinking wine with my mates.)
2. Limiting foods I know to be irritants
I know that spicy foods, popcorn and milky chocolate will set my stomach alight (and not in a good way,) so if I’m having a dodgy time I’ll simply avoid them completely. There’s no point making an uncomfortable day even worse, so if you know certain things mean you’ll be bloated for the next two days or have you running to the toilet, just put them down. If I’m away from home or know I have lots of meetings where it’s just not practical for me to feel dodgy, I’ll keep my food and drink as clean as possible. Fish, vegetables, lightweight nibbles and lots of mint tea is where it’s at.
3. Practicing yoga and meditation
A little mindfulness goes a long way – as does a little stretching. My weekly yoga class does wonders for my overall wellbeing, but also helps to massage my tummy into working more effectively. Although during the class I feel like I’m going to parp at any moment, I definitely feel a positive benefit in the days after; put simply yoga can help you shut down stress by calming the nervous system, and in the process calm your irritated digestive system. Similarly, meditation can help reduce stress levels and put you back in control of your body – which is exactly what you need when you’re overwhelmed with the feeling of disconnect between your tummy and the rest of you.
Are you a sufferer of IBS or any other gastroenterology issues? How do you manage your symptoms or live with the condition? Are you worried you may be suffering with IBS in silence, and are in need of a diagnosis?
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