IBS and Stress: Stressing Over Stress Is Distressing
A diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome often feels like you have been dumped into a box because they have ruled out everything else. It is a diagnosis of exclusion, and it is frustrating. The frustration only gets worse from there.
We try to figure out which foods bother us, and then we have flares where even the thought of food is a trigger. We try to figure out how to plan outings, and then we have to cancel our plans last minute because our usual bag of tricks failed to prevent a flare. Following a diet of safe foods seems to fail at the worst times. Our pain tends to return at the worst possible moment. Life seems to become a series of failed attempts to rectify a problem that cannot be fixed. The frustration is real. The emotions triggered by a flare can be just as bad as the flare itself.
How to avoid stress
One of the first things we are told with just about any medical condition is to avoid stress or limit stress. That seems like an impossible feat considering the unpredictable nature of an illness that can be so disruptive to daily life. Stress irritates irritable bowel syndrome, but is it possible to avoid it? IBS is irritating in itself, and adding any kind of irritant is enough to send you reeling into an awful flare, and those flares just cause more stress.
Depression is hard to avoid when you are stuck in the rut of being stressed by everyday stressors and add in the stress of trying to minimize stress levels in order to better cope with symptoms and reduce flares. Note the repetition of the word stress. It is a huge part of living with IBS, and many of us struggle with it on a daily basis.
I know plenty of people who meditate and do yoga, and it works for them. It does not work for me. I have tried deep breathing exercises and plenty of other recommendations for reducing stress. None of it works for me. My mind is always running full speed. I cannot shut if off and often cannot slow it down. I am one of those people who contemplates possibilities, and that mindset causes a great deal of stress. The worries of what might happen seem to be worse than the worries over what has actually happened.
Coping with stress
Over time, I have had to find ways to cope with the stress because elimination is not going to happen. Reducing it has not been possible. The only way to handle it has been to find better ways to cope with stress. My current plan of attack involves focusing on stress even harder.
Yes, you read that right. I worry more about my stress, not less. I pick one of the smallest problems and focus on that. It prevents me from worrying about the bigger problems at hand. The stress is less when I am annoyed by a small hole in my shirt as opposed to worrying over whether or not I will have an accident before I can get home. It feels less pressing when I worry over whether or not I remembered to turn off the lights at home rather than focusing on cramping and pain. It sounds silly, but it has helped me by diverting my attention from bigger worries.
If you are like me, you have tried many different ways to reduce stress. You have been more frustrated by trying to get the stress-relieving techniques to work than just dealing with the stress at hand. The last thing you are looking for is another suggestion for relieving stress. I do not want to be another person telling you to try something, but if you are at your wit’s end try dealing with the little things and putting the bigger things on the backburner. Maybe you will find it helpful, too.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?