Self-Talk Matters in an IBS Crisis

Last updated: November 2018

When you are sitting on the toilet, a crisis is happening, all sorts of things run through your head. In my experience, the self-talk going on can impact the intensity and duration of the crisis.

Why is this happening to me?

Who saw me go to the bathroom and is waiting for me? What are they thinking about me?

I’m hopeless, I can’t leave the house.

I’ve ruined everything

What will people think? This is the 3rd time I’ve raced to the bathroom in the last hour.

I’ve been there. You are trying to hurry up. But the more you hurry the worse it gets. And if you don’t finish then you will just have to come back again very soon and that’ll be even more embarrassing.

If you are thinking about what others may think and have a continuous stream of how worthless you are as thoughts running through your head, this will increase your stress levels.

How does stress affect the crisis?

This stress will activate adrenaline and cortisol as your sympathetic nervous system kicks in. This means that blood will rush away from your digestive system to your heart and lungs and legs, so you can run - the fight or flight response.

This can mean different things for different people. For some it means diarrhea as the body just releases everything. Now if you already have diarrhea and this is why you are on the toilet in the first place it will make it worse.

For others it shuts the digestive system down and you have constipation. You may feel the need to go but you can’t relax enough to actually release the stool.

What can you do?

Stop yourself and observe the self-talk that is happening. This sounds easy but can be difficult to get out of your head long enough to realize it.

Then change it.

Why is this happening to me – becomes my digestive system is doing the best that it can

I’m worthless – becomes my body is amazing and this doesn’t define who I am

I’ve ruined everything – becomes isn’t it great that I have a loving and supportive family/friends.

Speak lovingly to your stomach

Tell your intestines what a great job they are doing. Tell your abdomen you know it is doing the best job it can and thank your whole digestive system for being absolutely amazing. Smile. Sing. Laugh. Put on some relaxing music to listen to. Add this to your phone and have headphones on you to help you in those moments.

All these things help to calm you down and reduce the stress and the associated hormones. No one will hear you or see you as you are alone in the bathroom, so you don’t need to be embarrassed. If you are in a public restroom, it is still possible to do it all silently.


But most of all, breathe. Breathing deeply is one of the best ways to reduce cortisol. When we are stressed we breathe in a shallow way from the chest. When we are relaxed we breathe more deeply from the abdomen. So consciously switching to a deeper breath signals to the body that it is ok to relax. The blood and energy can go back into making the digestive system function optimally.

Focusing on the breath can also help to stop any destructive self-talk as your mind concentrates on breathing.

These small changes can mean all the difference in a crisis. So be nice to yourself.

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

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