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Self-Care with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

irritable bowel syndrome written on sticky notes

This post has been written by Katie Hoare, from Nutritionist Resource, a website offering a simple way to connect with expert nutritional information and nutrition professionals across the UK. For more information, Nutritionist Resource has a dedicated resource hub for IBS and Digestive Health.

Up to one in five individuals in the UK are affected by Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a long-term condition that affects the functioning of the digestive system. Often with debilitating symptoms including painful bloating, abdominal discomfort and extreme bowel changes, the condition may be persistent or flare up at times of heightened stress, emotional trauma or anxiety.

If you have IBS, it’s sadly likely that you’ll feel embarrassed and frustrated by the symptoms that impact daily life. Debra Thomas BSc Registered Dietitian, says, “IBS can be debilitating and can have a significant impact on the lives of sufferers and even their families. People report avoidance behaviour such as refusing invitations for nights out, shopping and even holidays. It can also affect work negatively, with sufferers needing time off to manage their symptoms or visit their GP, but it can even affect the way people work in avoiding meetings.”

Last year, a study by PrecisionBiotics found a staggering 48% of people thought to be suffering with IBS, put off going to see their doctor because of embarrassing bowel symptoms and miss out on the essential help they need. As a result of the impact IBS symptoms can have on daily life, the condition can also have a psychological impact on a person, resulting in mental illnesses such as depression. Maintaining a healthy mindset along with managing IBS symptoms with self-care is important, as our mind and body are in tune with one another, and vice versa.

Try these four steps to manage your self-care with IBS

Exercise

If constipation is a symptom you struggle with from IBS, exercise can be effective in calming these symptoms. Regular activity helps to keep the digestive system moving and regular exercise is not only essential for maintaining a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.

people exercising in a yoga class

Yoga is a great practice if you don’t enjoy high intensity workouts. Focusing on structured breathing exercises and complete mind-body synchronisation will not only help you relax, but ensure your body is moving and flowing to encourage healthy digestion.

Sushma Manish PGDip, Ayurvedic yoga therapist details the benefits of yoga and digestion: “Yoga is all about attuning to the core of who we really are. “We are complete, and to realise it we need to look within ourselves and be more vigilant about energy within, and our breathing. When we practice breathing techniques like pranayama (breath control), our mind calms down and everything becomes aligned.

“The tridoshas (biological energies with the body that govern both physical and mental processes in the body) which keep fluctuating, come to a balance. This helps in proper secretion of digestive juices and leads to the correction of digestion. There is a close relation between the gut and mind as the practice of Ayurveda (a historical medicinal practice with Indian roots) has been highlighting for ages. Simple postures like the vajrasana (thunderbolt pose), padmasana (lotus pose), tadadana (mountain pose) and pranayama (breath control) will help a great deal.”

If, however, you haven’t exercised regularly or the thought of exercise makes you uneasy, try a non-conventional form of exercise: dancing to your favourite playlist in your bedroom, jigging to the radio when doing the washing or simply going for a walk with a friend.

Relaxation

As we lead busy lives, it’s easy to forgo self-care when the washing needs doing, a report needs submitting or daily life in general gets in your way. But taking care of yourself with simple adjustments can be an essential part of your daily routine, ensuring you make the most of your leisure time, not only for your mind, but the body too.

woman sitting near open window

Instead of sitting on the sofa in the evening, try lying flat, with your arms outstretched. Lying flat helps to release tension in muscles and joints and encourages easy blood flow around the body. This leads on to ensure you get enough sleep. If you’re struggling to sleep due to pain and discomfort, soothe those physical pains with a hot water bottle or non-caffeinated drink. Heat can help relax cramping muscles which may be stopping you drift off to sleep. Good quality sleep is essential for the body to recover from exertion, both physical and mental.

Mental Health

Our mind is incredibly receptive to our physical body, and vice versa. If one is out of whack, the other is sensitive to this unbalance. Our bodies are in tune with our minds, and if you suffer with anxiety, it’s possible your IBS symptoms may flare up at times of heightened anxiety.

Maintaining a healthy mind can be highly effective in your treatment for IBS, with a variety of treatments available including talk therapies, CBT and other forms of medication that your GP can advise. This is particularly important in managing everyday stressors and your IBS.

Stress

The research published by PrecisionBiotics found stress to be the biggest trigger for IBS, so it’s helpful to learn effective coping mechanisms for everyday stressors. Relaxation therapies including mindfulness and daily meditation practice can help to focus the mind in the present, and give yourself a little head space.

silhouette of man meditating on rock cliff during golden hour

Complementary therapies such as Hypnotherapy, recognised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence as a treatment option for IBS, can be highly effective in relieving stress and anxiety, using the power of suggestion and the deep unconscious. Irritable Bowel Syndrome can often be a lonely condition, with complicated or misunderstood symptoms making leaving you isolated and embarrassed.

If symptoms become so debilitating that they affect your everyday life, and essentially the quality of your life, it may be time to speak with a professional, whether that’s your doctor, counsellor or nutritional therapist. You might also discover that you aren’t alone with those closest to you when it comes to IBS.

It’s important to consult your GP or qualified nutritional therapist before trying new dietary approaches or supplements.

BBUK have many resources to download for people with IBS and bowel problems. Visit: www.bbuk.org.uk/adults/adults-resources

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