A brain with a colon wrapped around it. There are distressed lines from from the brain.

The Mental Load Of IBS

Last updated: September 2022

As IBS sufferers, we often talk about the physical symptoms of the illness. The urgency, the cramps, the painful bloating – they're terrible. But there's so much more to it. Even when my body is feeling fine, my mind still thinks about IBS. It never truly leaves me. And to me, that's one of the hardest parts about living with IBS.

The unpredictability of flares

Whenever I leave the house, I worry about getting sick. Even when I'm feeling perfectly well, even when I'm just going out for half an hour. IBS is unpredictable, so my mind is always wary of what my body might do.

I can't remember a time when I left the comfort of my home without feeling any anxiety at all. When I was excited to go somewhere without being very worried at the same time. It's not that I want to stay home all day long (I really don't). But there's some part of me that does believe it would be easier.

Every meal feels like taking a risk

Do you ever enjoy a meal without worrying about what it might entail? I know I don't. And it doesn't even matter what I eat. If I opt for fruits or vegetables, I worry about not tolerating them today. When I eat my ultimate safe food, white rice with chicken, I wonder if the chicken was fresh enough and if the rice didn't sit outside for too long when I cooked it last night.

I know that these thoughts aren't all related to IBS. I'm generally so scared of getting sick, whether it's a flare or, worse, an actual stomach bug. I know that no one likes to be ill, but I would love not to think about it every time I try to eat something.

A fear of flares

On a similar note, I've noticed that my anxiety has centered on the fear of getting an IBS-D flare. No matter what the source of my worry is, it always comes down to this. It's like the fear of having a flare is a symptom of an overall anxious state of mine.

I might be worried about my son getting sick again, and my mind goes straight to: "but what if he's sick AND you're sick, and you can't even take care of him?" When I stress about a doctor's appointment, I not only worry about getting bad news but also about having a flare. It makes no sense, but it makes everything worse. And, of course, the added stress does nothing good for my digestive system.

IBS dreams

Sometimes, IBS follows me in my dreams, too. Not usually in the form of flares, though. I often dream of looking for a bathroom, but when I find one, I realize that someone turned it into a theatre, a classroom, a library, or something of that sort. I'm pretty sure that's my brain's way of reminding me that I spend my waking hours secretly scared of not having a private bathroom near me.

I'm not sure if any of you can relate to these things, but IBS consumes me every day, even when I've been feeling well for weeks. I can be having a great time in general, but a small voice in the back of my mind constantly reminds me that the good feeling might not last.

I do realize that I probably have a problem with anxiety since none of this is directly related to physical symptoms of IBS but rather my psychological response to them. I wonder if anyone has tried therapy for IBS-related anxiety? If you have, please let me know about your experience!

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