A middle-aged woman shown in profile leans forward with her hand on her forehead and her eye looking up at her brain, which is visible through her skull

Could It Be All In Our Heads?

No one wants to hear that the pain, discomfort, embarrassing situations of IBS they have dealt with, for way too long, could be all in their heads! After all, we feel and experience these symptoms and flare-ups to the point of it becoming debilitating at times…so, how is this not real?

Breathe! It IS real. All of it. However, at what point do we help to manage and control our IBS experiences better than we have in the past? I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried so many different recommended treatments: Low FODMAP diet, supplements, probiotics/no probiotics, antibiotics (for SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth), fasting, meal timing (4-5 hours between eating), gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, etc. Sound familiar? How about controlling stress levels, sure I’ve worked on that too! Meditation, gentle exercise, yoga, extra sleep…been there, done that!

Everyone with IBS is different

It works…all of it…to some extent. And then, it doesn’t. I seem to go back and forth between severe symptoms and more mild symptoms…but never no symptoms. Not yet anyway. I’m still searching for the holy grail of IBS treatment. Haha! It’s true. I believe we can all create health for ourselves. The question is…how?

Well, I believe it isn’t the same for all of us…after all, we are different people! A few things will hold true for most of us though. A change in diet to support the healing of the gut, although that “diet” differs from person to person. Stress reduction, in whatever form that takes for you…mindful meditation, yoga, exercise, cooking, gardening, a warm bath…you get the idea. It’s everything I mentioned above, tailored to each individual…and practiced consistently. Why is it then, that these recommendations often fall short?

Our minds play a vital role

One possible explanation is in our heads, not our stomachs. Our minds play a vital role in our healing. It is in our beliefs and thoughts that we find our biggest ally against the symptoms of IBS. Everything from stress turning our tummies into high performing acrobats flipping from side to side and in circles, to the belief that irritable bowel syndrome can (and will) control our lives. ALL of this resides in one place…our minds. Hey, let’s get real…I am NOT saying to skip what we have been encouraged to do by our doctors, nutritionists, specialists, etc. What I am saying is that we need to consider the possibility that our bodies and minds are so incredible that they can create real physical symptoms to help us cope with repressed emotions and stress in our lives.

This philosophy and treatment approach pioneered by Dr. John Sarno, a New York Times best-selling author and doctor to many celebrities (including radio personality Howard Stern), came about in the hopes of curing his patients from debilitating back pain. If all medical reasoning had been concluded, and there was nothing physically hindering a patient’s recovery…then, could it be that our minds triggered the pathways in our body that create these symptoms? Thus, removing us from having to face our emotions because we are singularly focused on our physical symptoms. His theory created converts out of skeptics when it came to healing back pain.

Practice toward progress

My thoughts are…why limit this method to only back pain? What if, by examining our emotions daily, and saying to our minds “thanks for trying to look out for me, but I am going to face whatever is going on and confront it…so, don’t bother trying to distract me with more IBS symptoms” could actually help relieve our ongoing pain/bloating/bathroom visits? Does this sound a little out there? Yep! Does it mean it isn’t worth considering and trying it out…? It makes sense to me that our minds are so wonderful that they have this desire to protect us from emotions we don’t want to deal with…maybe it’s a relationship, a job, or a project at work (it could be anything - large or small). By creating pain or other symptoms for our attention to gravitate to, we no longer have the ability to think about the actual issue(s) that require our attention. Once we are aware that the symptom is created in our mind, the brain stops its protective mechanism and our symptoms begin to disappear.

This certainly isn’t a cure all. It takes continued practice in order to make progress, but there may be something to it! After all, we know when we are highly stressed our IBS symptoms typically become worse. Maybe the next time you’re feeling symptoms come on, recognize what’s going on and simply tell your mind…” I’m willing and able to face whatever this is, but I thank you for trying to look out for me. I don’t need your help here, I got this!”

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy. We never sell or share your email address.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.