IBS and Anxiety: Have Both, Can’t Travel

I’ve got courage to explore new places. I’ve got determination. And I’ve been preparing. I’ve had visions of vacations dancing in my head for months. I can visualize myself with my husband, just the two of us, casually strolling on the beach, no one around, without a care in the world.

The reality, though, is that my digestive system is so finicky that any change in my usual routine can aggravate my IBS-C symptoms, and my stomach is tied up in knots just thinking about it.

Worried & anxious

I’m packing tonight for a trip that requires me to fly on a plane. I’ve been planning for it for weeks. And by planning, I mean watching my diet like a mad woman, reading ingredient labels and eating nothing but oatmeal for every meal. I’ve tried to make myself go to the bathroom a dozen times before I step on the plane in order to avoid actually having to use one mid-flight. Where did this fear originate? I can’t tell you. All I know is that I can’t afford to pay the price for a flare-up.

If it were just pre-flight “stomach troubles,” that would be one thing. But the truth is, I’ve been feeling anxious, just thinking about the trip. There’s nothing about it that should make me feel nervous; I’m joining my husband for his working weekend, so I won’t have to worry about getting lost, meeting new people, or not being able to find a bathroom. But instead of looking forward to spending time and enjoying a low-key weekend with him, I’m just worried. Will I make it incident-free on the plane, or will my insides be screaming and exploding the entire flight? You know, the usual worries.

It seems like when my IBS-C flares up, so do my anxieties. When extreme stressors show up in my life, I get migraine headaches, I get back pain, and I get all of the typical IBS symptoms. As my IBS and anxiety levels increase, so do my efforts to manage them.

I’ve tried meditating, yoga, long walks, journaling, therapy, and medication. Some help some of the time, but not a single one of these things works all of the time. I’m not giving up on traveling, but I have given up ever feeling like I’ll be cured of the incessant worrying that seems to show up alongside IBS when I travel.

Practice makes perfect

The thing I’ve learned is that I get better with practice: the more traveling I do, the better I am at it. If I find a hotel that serves IBS-friendly meals and has easy access to restrooms, you can bet I’ll book there again. And routine is my friend: if a particular itinerary was successful, it’s ok to take the same trip twice…or even longer. If I’m traveling for vacation and the point is to relax, I don’t let myself feel guilty for not being adventurous. I’m learning to pat myself on the back for keeping things as low-key as possible.

What about you? Do you get anxious when you travel? What do you do to stay calm as you make your way through your trip? I’d love to hear your tips.

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