Tips for Managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
There are a number of ways that simple lifestyle choices can help you manage your IBS.
Learn deep relaxation techniques
The autonomic nervous system controls the functioning of those parts of your body that you don't have to think about, like digestion. It is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (which is involved in the 'fight or flight' response when you are stressed) and the parasympathetic nervous system which is activated when you relax. For more about the nervous system see THIS LINK. (It's aimed at teens, but it is easy to understand for us all!)
Food moves through your digestive system by means of alternating contractions and relaxations of the gut - this is called peristalsis. If the sympathetic nervous system is overactive, the gut can lose its natural rhythm and go into spasm. This not only causes pain, it can block the transit of food or push it through too fast, causing constipation or diarrhoea.
When you are in a deeply relaxed state the parasympathetic system takes over and your gut relaxes, allowing the food to move through normally and the symptoms to subside. Relaxation, achieved via self-hypnosis or meditation, can, therefore, be an excellent way to help you gain control over your symptoms. If you find these skills difficult, I can teach you, or you can purchase my stress reduction audio to use at home HERE. There's a free five-minute version which will give you a taste, but you probably need to spend at least 20 minutes in deep relaxation a few times a week to see real benefits as far as your IBS is concerned.
What you eat
Food intolerances can be a factor in some IBS and for some people, certain foods tend to trigger off an episode. Despite this, it's best to seek medical advice about how to test if eating more or less of certain foods will help you manage your condition. Simply cutting items out of your diet may result in dietary imbalances which can cause problems of its own.
NICE (2008) offers some general guidelines and you can download these free by clicking HERE.
Keep a diary
Keeping an IBS diary can help you identify which situations tend to trigger off your symptoms and help you avoid them. If they cannot be avoided you can plan ahead as to how you will cope, e.g. letting people know you cannot eat certain foods when going to friends for a meal.
Reduce the symptoms
Once you have a formal diagnosis of IBS your GP can offer a variety of medication to help you control the symptoms when they flare-up. Detailed information about this is available HERE. Warmth, such as a hot water bottle applied to the painful area can also often be helpful.
I've mentioned the benefits of self-hypnosis above. When you work with a hypnotherapist one-to-one you also look at relaxation and stress reduction, pain control and other issues which might have arisen around your IBS. It's very common, for example, for IBS sufferers to find their confidence takes a knock, or they become anxious, especially about going out where they may not have easy access to a toilet. See more about this HERE.