Holiday Stress? Ways to Say Bye-Bye to IBS Symptoms
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! If you have kids they’re more behaved, stores are festively decorated from head to toe, your favorite tunes are blaring from the radio, and all around, everyone seems to be in much better spirits! And let’s not forget the most treasured part of this season--- being surrounded by family and friends, while reminiscing cozily around a warm table, laced with delectable holiday food and drinks. What’s not to like?
Holiday Cheer, Tummy Fear?
For IBS sufferers, this lavish tradition can actually feel more bothersome then enjoyable. Instead of contemplating which dessert to try, those with IBS may be more concerned with having access to the nearest bathroom; afraid to indulge in any dishes that may trigger a flare up. Or maybe this is something that you deal with on a regular basis - feeling stressed and fearful of new environments; at certain times feeling like it’s preventing you from living life normally. But listen up IBS friends; it DOESN’T have to be this way!
Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do! We want you to not only enjoy the holidays feeling healthy and at ease, but everyday thereafter! You deserve to feel your absolute best, day in and day out, and we’re here to support you—so get ready to take back control and kiss those belly blues “buh-bye!”
1: Rude Food
Defense mechanism number one: dissect your diet. IBS can be an angry beast, but if you supply it with some of its favorite foods, you will already be on your way to beating the bloat. Many people with IBS suffer from bloating, loose stools, constipation, or a combination of them all. One of the first steps you can take is to be your own detective. Every person is different, so we all need to be in tune with our bodies, and the specific foods that trigger a flare up. Keep a food journal for a week to try identifying these foods, and tracking your fiber and water intake while you’re at it! Many Americans do not get enough insoluble fiber in their daily diets (vegetables, whole grains, wheat bran), which has a laxative effect on the gastrointestinal tract. Men should aim for a minimum 38g/day, and women 25g/day.1 Insoluble fiber bulks up stool, allowing it to pass more quickly, thus preventing constipation. Insufficient water intake can also contribute to constipation. Get in the habit of hydrating before thirst kicks in.
If you don’t want to wait any longer to ditch your symptoms, you can also try eliminating gluten, or following a low FODMAP diet- which will help you identify gassy carbohydrates that you don’t tolerate well. (The Monash University in Australia created a phone application of a Low FODMAP Guide, which tells you the FODMAP content in all of your typical foods, which foods to avoid, and which foods to make your best friend, all with a simple traffic light system. They even provide recipes for you to try. The app might be that golden penny you’ve been searching for!)
Experimentation with new foods while trying to eliminate others can be daunting, but keep in mind that a low FODMAP diet is only supposed to be temporary, and you can slowly add back some foods if your symptoms subside (I’m sure you can’t even imagine that feeling but it is more than possible!).
2: Realign You Mind
Part of your IBS journey should also be geared toward increasing your mindfulness. Use your evening meal as an opportunity to savor and appreciate your food. Smaller plates can help you increase your satisfaction with a smaller portion of food. Take the time to really chew each bite. Longer chewing periods improve digestion as it gives the enzymes in saliva a greater window of time to go to work! Try writing your positive intention on a post-it note and stick it to your mirror, your fridge, or your phone.
3: Move More, GI Score!
We’ve all heard exercise is good for maintaining normal blood pressure, a steady heart rate, achieving a healthy weight, and building muscle strength, but has anyone ever told you it could benefit you in the bathroom? If you have IBS, you probably spend far more time on “the golden throne” than you would like due to irregular bowel movements. These irregularities may actually be due to a lack of consistent exercise and movement. Exercise gets the G.I. tract revved up and can help stimulate healthy digestion, promoting more “regular” bowel habits! It’s extra important during the holidays, to combat stress, squeeze in some fitness time whenever and wherever you can!
It’s not always easy to get exercise in but you can still reap the glorious gut benefits without always having to hit the gym! If you spend most of your day in an office, here are a few tricks you can try:
- Hold a walking meeting
- Get up from you desk and pace if you are on the phone
- Take a walking lunch break (if it’s cold outside, use the office stairs)
- Stretch at your desk
- Invest in a standing desk or computer platform that rises, and/or set an alarm to go off at regular intervals to remind you to move
- Create new rules for “regularity,” for example, “I’ll take the stairs if it’s 5 flights or under”, or “during my favorite TV programming I’ll stretch.”
Failure of the pelvic floor muscles to relax (pelvic floor dyssynergia), sometimes caused by trauma to the pelvic floor area (ie. childbirth) is another cause of constipation. Biofeedback is a common treatment method that uses a computer and video monitoring to display bodily functions patients are usually unaware of.2
4: Depress the Stress
We saved this one for last because we find it to be the most fundamental in driving your success to healing your IBS symptoms. You can exercise everyday, eat right, and be more aware of your surroundings, but if you haven’t put the stress to rest, your IBS symptoms won’t follow along either.
Remember that tip on mindfulness? It is important for stress too! After your alarm clock sounds and before life gets a hold of you, take a minute to reflect on what you want to accomplish with your day. You could set a simple food-related goal, such as eating an extra fruit or vegetable you tolerate with each meal, or an emotional well-being goal, such as gratitude for your family or work. With all the research being done on the brain and gut connection, it’s hard to ignore this powerful stance. A study looking at stress levels in adolescent girls found that the IBS group showed a higher stress score overall, and that the prevalence of IBS was significantly higher in the severe stress group than in the mild stress group, 20.3% and 6.3%, respectively.3
Your brain is connected to just about every part of your body, including your stomach. When you’re stressed, your brain releases cortisol (stress hormone), which then switches all your organs into stress mode. This desensitizes the gut and throws it off from its “regular” duty of turning and churning your food particles and digestion slows… and there in lies your tummy woes.
So how do we fix this? Well, for starters it may seem almost impossible to completely erase stress from your life, however, you can change the way you react to it. Instead of equating stress with a negative attitude, embrace it and recreate it into empowerment and good energy. Here’s an example: you’re getting ready for a big interview and you’re on your way to the appointment with your future boss (see what I did there?). Suddenly, you begin to feel a sense of anxiety---before you know it your palms are sweating, you heart is racing a mile a minute, AND your tummy is now doing back flips. Now you’re feeling uneasy, negative thoughts are crowding your mind and your body’s reactions are becoming more intense. Here’s where you switch gears and take the lead; pump up the radio and use this added adrenaline as motivation to gear you up for your new job (run with optimism too)! The mind is so powerful, but you can control whether its influence is beneficial or detrimental to your health. Case in point: make stress look good on you!
As you can see, IBS is a tricky condition to navigate, but with your handy compass (or smart phone) to lead you in the right direction and keep you on track, there is plenty of hope! Track your diet, experiment with your diet, practice mindfulness, get those legs and heart pumping, and reroute your feelings of stress into powerful and positive energy. Don’t wait until after the holidays, start with one goal this week and build on it, so you can start off your New Year with success. Now it’s time for you to believe it!...“It's a new a dawn, and a new day, and a new life for me. And I'm feeling good!”
Do you have a good understanding of what triggers your flares?