As has been discussed many times before, it is possible that one of the causes of IBS is anxiety, stress and chronic worry. Today, I’d like to share some of the ways I combat anxiety, stress and panic that is caused by an IBS flare, mental illness or just regular old life stress. I am currently sick on the couch, after a particular nasty flare-up and don’t have any energy. It hard to get off the couch, let alone ‘practice’ a formal meditation or the like. Laying on the couch causes me anxiety. I am worried about missing work, worried about my ability to manage my IBS, worried about…missing life. Therefore, I will try to calm myself, in any way that I am able to today.
It’s important to know your limitations when approaching a stress reduction technique. As I just mentioned, I am sick right now. Do I feel like getting down on the floor and twisting myself into the lotus position…contemplating the nature of the universe…uh…no. What I can do is breathe. We can call this the One Breath technique. Just breathe as you naturally do, no tricks involved. The only thing that is asked of you is that you pay attention to your breath and nothing else. As your mind wanders, be ok with it. Do not address any of the thoughts that will inevitably pass through your mind. Simply acknowledge the fact that you had the thought and then move your focus back to the breath, for as long as you can. If this is only for twenty seconds, so be it, and be sure to tell yourself you did well. If it feels good, keep going. This may be all you need when you are not feeling well. The breath is the most basic of our life functions and to be able to just exist with your breath can have a powerful, positive affect on your body and by extension; your stress. If you feel up to something more, try circular or rectangular breathing. Circular breathing is a bit more intense as it requires you to take a long, slow, deep breath through your nostrils or mouth for 3 to 5 seconds, as your lung capacity will allow. Once you have taken that initial breath, immediately repeat the process in reverse, pushing the air back down towards your diaphragm and repeat. I like to keep the image of a circle in my mind and follow the circle around as I repeat the breathing exercise. Rectangular breathing is similar, but you will hold the breath for 2 seconds or more depending and following the up, across, down, across shape of a rectangle. This is a method practiced by the military in combating (pun intended) stress during periods of duress.
I try to practice meditation as often as I can as a way of managing my anxiety, as well as my IBS. A daily practice shows tangible benefit. Meditation can be very simple and very, very complex, depending on what you want out of it. For the purpose of this article, let’s keep it simple. The most basic form of meditation is mainly concerned with the movement of guess what? Yes, that’s right; the breath. Sit in a comfortable place with your spine as aligned as you can keep it. Relax your body and simply watch your breath. You can close your eyes or keep them partially open, as this will support the relaxed state. Another method of meditation is to concentrate on a fixed point, object, mantra or positive thought. Again, the mind will naturally wander, which it is apt to do, but the object is to return to the thing that you were focusing on in the first place. As per usual, breathing is of the greatest importance during the meditation. Keep on breathing. Just keep breathing…
Unfortunately, there will be times when you are in a panic or having an anxiety attack and you will be unable to calm yourself enough to practice breathing exercises or meditation. In these cases, I have found that distraction techniques will be of benefit. My favorite is the Ten Object technique. You can use any of your five senses and be aware of ten things in your immediate surroundings. Just notice the things around you. Again, assign no value or meaning to the objects, just acknowledge them. There are plenty of other distraction, breathing and meditation techniques to learn about. Do a little research and find what’s best for you. Happy breathing.