alt=A woman sits serenely with swirls passing through her mind. Headphones connected to a phone are on the table in front of her.

Bless This Mess Created By Stress, IBS, and Sleeplessness

Stress and IBS combined are guaranteed to cause problems. One is agitated by the other, and either leads to the other. Add insomnia to the mix and you have a relentless cycle of stress, IBS, and sleeplessness. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep causes stress, and that stress agitates IBS.

The 5th IBS In America survey asked 1,930 people about their experience with IBS. The results showed the 70 percent of respondents cited stress as an IBS trigger, and 65 percent reported anxiety as an IBS trigger. Depression was reported by 43 percent of respondents, and 51 percent reported having anxiety or panic disorders. Results showed that 6 in 10 reported needing some form of support, with half stating that emotional support is most important to them.

Trying to minimize flares means minimizing stress. Unfortunately, this is no easy feat. I have struggled with it for quite some time. I am learning to cope and have discovered a few things that help me de-stress. If I could get my insomnia under control, I could eliminate a lot of stress. Here is how I cope.

Coping with stress and insomnia

I have learned that my sleep patterns are not much of a pattern. I would say it is more like a wish list as opposed to a schedule. Sometimes I get a full 8 hours. Recently, I have felt worse when I did. Most often, I tend to get about 4 to 6 hours of sleep. I usually wake up fairly frequently. If I somehow manage to get 4 to 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I feel pretty good. That is my sweet spot.

When I get less sleep or I wake up more frequently, I tend to be grouchy. I have never been a morning person, but a morning after I receive less sleep is especially bad. I have found that taking time to fully wake up before getting out of bed helps me to calm my case of grumps. This sets the tone of the day. If I get out of bed and I am still quite grouchy, quiet time or relaxing music can ease some of the stress. Meditation works for some people. Jogging or taking a walk works for others. Find a distraction to minimize your stress.

Coping with IBS flares caused by stress

Of course, stress cannot be completely avoided. I have learned to minimize it, but I cannot eliminate it. This means that I still have stress-related flares. The obvious solution to resolving a flare caused by stress is to try and minimize stress. Again, I resort to finding a distraction. Sometimes I paint. Sometimes I write. I find that occupying my mind reduces stress. It is the act of focusing on something rather than dwelling on stress that helps me.

While I wait for it to resolve, I ride out the symptoms of a flare and try to cope with the pain as best I can. Soaking in a hot bath helps relieve cramping. Sticking to safe foods or fasting also helps minimize the trips to the bathroom. The distractions I use to reduce stress also helps me focus on something other than pain.

Trying to break the cycle of stress and IBS flares

I have mental health issues, and I take medication to control the symptoms. This has helped a great deal in coping with stress. It has not eliminated it, but it has greatly reduced it. The benefits of taking medication go beyond stress relief for me, but the relief has been welcome and beneficial in reducing stress-related flares. If you are dealing with uncontrollable stress, talk to your doctor. You might be able to reduce stress and reduce the number of flares.

Share your experiences

Do you have any suggestions for coping with stress? What tactics do you use to deal with stress, IBS, or insomnia? I would love to hear how you are coping. Share in the comments below or visit our forums.

The 5th IBS In America survey was conducted online from June 8 through August 3, 2020. All of the 1,930 people who completed the survey have been screened for IBS symptoms.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

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.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.

Community Poll

Does your IBS prevent you from attending public events?