May 6, 2021
I have been diagnosed with IBS a few months ago, but I had problems for 3 years and I didn't know what was the cause. I have visited many doctors, used many medications and nothing. Until one day one doctor gave me antidepressants which did miracles. It has been looong since I felt alive. But I have stopped using them and I am almost back to square one. My symptoms kinda vary depending on situation. If I am not at home it is a disaster. My bowels decide to move and I immediately have a panic attack. My heart starts beating fast, I'm sweating, breathing fast, feeling anxious and trapped. And then I have urge to go to bathroom immediately which brings nausea and pain. All that usually goes away after bathroom visit, but the problem is, it is not just one bathroom visit but multiple before everything is fine. That kind of bathroom visits are still taboo here where I live so imagine how it must feel when you have urge to go but it is not something that you want to do anywhere but home. My whole body is feeling the pain. I have a feeling that if I could control my panic attacks and anxiety and to control myself when I am being nervous, it would improve my IBS symptoms significantly. But I don't know how. Any advice would be more than welcome.
May 8, 2021
I’m very sorry to hear that you are experiencing these issues. I completely understand the frustration you must be feeling having to deal with anxiety and IBS. You are definitely not alone in this struggle. Many individuals who suffer from IBS also have to deal with anxiety as well. The two usually come hand in hand as a vicious cycle. When you start to feel your IBS symptoms ramping up, your anxiety increases. As your anxiety increases, your IBS symptoms get worse, and so on and so on until you eventually feel as though you are having a panic attack and about to soil yourself at the same time. I’ve gone through the same experience you are currently going through at many points in my life while living with IBS.
I was officially diagnosed with IBS at the age of 12, which means I was attending public middle school and high school for the first 6 years I experienced IBS symptoms. These are definitely not the most comfortable places to have diarrhea almost every hour. As a child in school, I often felt trapped at school since I couldn’t just get up and leave, which only increased my anxiety and made my IBS worse. There are a lot of negative stigmas around bathroom use at school, so I can understand how difficult it can be to have to live or work in an area that does not have easy access to a comfortable bathroom that is free of any ridicule or embarrassment.
I also didn’t even realize I was experiencing anxiety and depression for the first 5 years until I saw my general practitioner about those specific issues and was prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. Like you, these worked wonderfully for a couple years to help reduce anxiety and allowed me to become a little more comfortable with using the bathroom in public places. However, these medications are often just a band-aid and do not solve the underlying issues.
Two of the most important pieces of advice I can give you as someone that has suffered from IBS for 20+ years is to become a master planner and add meditation into your daily routine. Since I was 12, I have woken up about 3 hours before I needed to go anywhere outside of my house. My IBS symptoms are the worst in the morning and usually cause me to have to go to the bathroom 5-6 times within the first few hours of waking up. During my middle and high school years, I was waking up around 3:30-4:00 am every morning to ensure the likelihood of having major IBS issues at school was kept to a minimum. Knowing that the chances of me having an embarrassing accident in the middle of class was reduced to almost 0% was well worth the hours of sleep lost over those years. What I realized later on is that I can decrease a lot of the issues I experience as a byproduct of IBS, including anxiety, by planning ahead. I rarely left my house outside of school and sports practices/events growing up, and had an extremely strict diet for years until I learned how to manage my schedule better. If you are going out anywhere that you are unfamiliar with, look up the surrounding areas to see where there are bathroom stops along the way. Become familiar with the different stores, restaurants, and even gas stations that have decent bathrooms, and when they open/close. Learn what foods/drinks give you issues and avoid them at all costs when you are not at home, or before you plan to go out. Always carry around what I call a small “go bag” just in case you ever have the need for a change of clothing if you ever find yourself in an unexpected bathroom situation. At the very least, carry extra toilet paper on you at all times. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 20 years I have gone into a public bathroom about to explode out of my rear end to find no toilet paper in site in the stall. Always, always bring your own toilet paper wherever you go. It has saved me more times than I can even count. Learning how to manage my schedule has allowed me to do things during my life that I never thought would be possible for someone with an extreme case of IBS-D (usually having a combination of 7-10 bowel movements/bouts of diarrhea each day for the past 20 years). A few years ago I worked for a company as a software trainer and was able to travel to 26 different states and 4 countries around the world in an 18 month time span, speaking in front of some fairly large crowds of people. It was an incredible experience that I never thought would have been possible when I normally can’t be more than 10 feet from a bathroom at all times. Hours of preparation went into each trip, including figuring out every possible stop along my routes to and from airports and hotels. Not a lot of places are open after 10pm, or before 6am, which is when I did the majority of my traveling to and from airports. The more I prepared, the less IBS issues I had. I would even plan out which restaurants I would eat at and which specific meals I would order, even before leaving my house to the airport. It might seem a little over the top and pretty unspontaneous to most people, but for those with IBS it is a recipe for success when traveling.
In addition to becoming a master planner, practicing meditation is something I have been working on for the past few years that has really helped me gain control of my anxiety. Medications can work well, but many have more side effects than the symptoms they actually help with, which is baffling to me. Anyone that says you can cure, or fully get rid of your anxiety is lying to you. Anxiety is a natural emotional response to stressful situations that can actually be beneficial in certain situations. The increased heart rate, sweating, and heavy breathing are all biological responses that will help you whenever you are in a fight or flight situation, such as if you are being chased by a bear in the forest while you are on a hike. This helps direct all of your energy to your muscles to be able to either fight the attacker, or run away. The problem is that we experience anxiety when there is no real perceived threat. Working on understanding why you are feeling anxious and being able to control your mind, and subsequently your body’s reaction will significantly reduce the viscous IBS/Anxiety cycle. Starting and keeping up with a regular meditation practice has allowed me to be able to handle my emotional response to my IBS flares and has made it so that I can logically think about the best solution at that time, rather than feeling like I am about to have a panic attack. It allows me to view my situation from a different perspective and allows a separation from my usual anxiety and IBS symptoms. Understanding how to listen to your body’s signals and what I call “warning signs” ahead of time will help reduce your anxiety as well. Starting a meditation practice can be difficult, so be patient during the first few weeks, or even months as you are getting used to it. Anxiety can make meditation even more difficult, since your mind is usually racing and worrying about things that will likely never happen. Anxiety always tricks us into believing that the worst case scenario is the most likely outcome, when in reality that is usually never the case. There is a clear brain/gut interaction, so if you can learn to control your brain’s emotional reactions better, it will help decrease the severity of your IBS symptoms. I have been able to meditate my way through severe cramps and some pretty close calls when I am in places without access to bathrooms on numerous occasions just through breathing techniques I learned in my meditation practices. When trying to lose weight, it takes consistent diet and exercise. The same is true for meditation. A regular consistent daily practice is best to be able to see noticeable results in a shorter period of time. There are plenty of guided meditations available that might be beneficial to start with, since there is less room for anxiety and rumination to rear it’s nasty head as you are guided through the process during most of the session.
I hope this information helps and you find some much needed relief from your IBS and anxiety. Don’t give up hope, there are plenty of ways to live a very fulfilling life, even when having to deal with IBS and anxiety every day.
June 3, 2021
June 5, 2021
Elizabeth Alvarez Moderator
May 26, 2021
I know it sounds insignificant but breathing techniques help me so so much when I would feel a panic attack come on. You can go on Youtube and search "breathing technique for panic attack" and you can find a lot. That's mainly what I do to help and it's what helps me get through them. Maybe something to try? -Elizabeth (team member)
June 3, 2021
Breathing techniques definitely help anxiety!
June 3, 2021