Bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence… not your standard dinner table conversation. But with more than 7% of Australians now being diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it is likely that you, or someone you know may suffer from this debilitating condition. Dietitian, Chloe McLeod, shares why stress could be a reason for IBS and how it can be managed.
What is it? What causes it?
IBS can be defined as a common condition that causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, wind, constipation and diarrhoea. It is a chronic condition; meaning long term management is required.
IBS can present for a number of reasons, with stress being one of the key contributors to symptoms.
People with IBS have heightened bowel sensitivity, and as such, symptoms can be manifested in response to internal and external stressors. Research indicates stress may result in increased propulsion of the contents of the gastrointestinal tract to a greater degree in those with IBS, compared to those without it. In one recent study, students with some form of IBS were more likely to report higher levels of social stress. It makes sense then, that stress management can significantly improve symptoms.
Management of stress helps control IBS.
It has become well known that those with anxiety, or other stress related disorders are more likely to suffer from IBS. Considering according to Beyond Blue, one in six young Australians has an anxiety disorder, and one in four has a mental health condition, awareness of managing mental health conditions, along with management of IBS is becoming increasingly important.
When I work with clients to determine triggers for IBS, nearly everyone talks about how their symptoms are so much worse when they’re in a stressful situation, be it from being flat out at work, relationship dramas, not sleeping well, or anything else. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation: worrying about your symptoms can actually sometimes bring them on. Imagine feeling increasingly uncomfortable, and by the end of the day feeling (and looking) like you’re 6 months pregnant. Or imagine needing to know where every public toilet in the CBD is, ‘just in case’. Or imagine sitting on the train, knowing you wont make it to the bathroom in time, and hoping no one else notices. No wonder it can be so stressful!
In the case, it’s crucial to implement stress management techniques, and this is something I almost always talk to my clients about; when it comes to IBS, it is essential to look at the whole package to ensure best management. In some instances, this may also mean referral onto a psychologist or counselor.
So how can we manage stress that is associated with IBS?
Although food is most commonly the triffer (this is where the LOW FODMAP diet can often come into play), some research has shown that inclusion of yoga, meditation or mindfulness techniques can have a positive impact on IBS symptoms. Here are some of my favourite recommendations for managing stress:
1. Take a walk. Even a short walk around the block can sometimes be enough to clear your head. If you can try to go somewhere with trees and green space.
2. Try meditation. It may seem difficult to start with, but give yourself time to practice. If you want some guidance, I like the apps Calm, Headspace or The Smiling Mind. Some yoga studios offer meditation, and there is also a number of retreats around as well. Or, try colouring in. The meditative benefits are incredible.
3. Get into yoga. With yoga studios popping up all over the place, or the ability to do it yourself at home through use of YouTube or Apps, participating in yoga has never been easier.
4. Do what relaxes YOU. I have a client who finds washing the dishes helps her de-stress (likely due to the ability to switch off as she is doing it!); choose something that suits you.
So where does food fit in?
For many people, food plays an important role in the management of IBS. Experimenting with a low
FODMAP diet may help with managing your IBS symptoms, along with stress management. What is a low FODMAP diet you ask? FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides,
Monosaccharides and Polyols. Foods high in FODMAPs either do not digest properly, or ferment in the gut, causing the symptoms of IBS. Determining which high FODMAP foods are your triggers is essential, to ensure a less restricted diet, and easier management of your IBS.
Management of stress, along with determining food triggers of IBS can help control it.
*Always remember, if you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition, referring on to a suitably qualified psychologist or counsellor is essential.