Stomach cramps that signal an urgent need for the loo?
Tummy in knots as the stress builds up?
It’s not totally clear how stress, anxiety, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are related — or which one comes first — but studies show stress and IBS can be linked in different ways.
What is IBS?
IBS is a common, long-term condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. The symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. This is how the NHS website explain IBS – and many of my clients report that it can have huge impacts on them and the way that they live.
My clients recognise that there are times when stress can impact more on their symptoms leaving them needing to rush to the loo with very little notice. But some clients also say that they feel that the fear of an attack can bring on an attack. This can result in a vicious circle of stress and worry. This worry can also impact on their symptoms and make the stomach cramps worse.
Stress and IBS
There are several theories about the connection between IBS, stress, and anxiety.
Although stress doesn’t cause the digestive disorder, people with IBS may be more sensitive to emotional troubles. There can be no doubt that stress and anxiety may make the mind more aware of spasms in the colon.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that IBS is ‘all in the mind’ because symptoms are very real for each person who is living with stress and IBS. But, intense emotional states such as stress and anxiety can trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the digestive system. This will be more noticeable for people who are struggling with IBS.
Don’t think that this only happens for people with IBS. I’m sure all of us, who have never had IBS before can have a sudden change in bowel habits when faced with a stressful situation, such as an important exam or job interview.
Ways to Cope With Stress and Anxiety
There’s proof that keeping your stress under control can help you prevent or ease IBS symptoms. This can be helped by techniques such as deep breathing or imagining a calm and relaxing space. It’s all about trying to keep the mind calm so that the ‘fight or flight’ response is not triggered. I’ve talked about this response in other posts that I’ve done recently.
It is thought that some people with IBS have experienced a traumatic event, usually during their childhood, such as abuse, neglect, a serious childhood illness or bereavement. A lot of the work that I do helps to minimise the impacts of those traumatic events. This work can have really big benefits to clients because, sometimes, these types of difficult experiences in our past can mean that we ‘re more sensitive to stress and the symptoms of pain and discomfort.
When symptoms of IBS strike, the first thing to do is to get checked out with your doctor to make sure that there is nothing sinister going on. You can then get lots of practical help with diet and how to manage the symptoms.
If stress is a real trigger, there are lots of ways that therapy can help and I’d be very happy to talk to you about the work that I do. Feel free to contact me if you want to know more.
Change is possible today