Supporting Someone Living with IBS
April is IBS Awareness Month, and IBS is so common that you likely know someone living with it. From watching their diet and managing stress to unexpected flare-ups and sick days, there’s no doubt that living with IBS is challenging. If someone you love lives with IBS, you may feel helpless and unsure of how to support them. Today, I’ll be sharing some of the ways that you can support a loved one living with IBS. If you have IBS, forward this article to your loved ones so that they know how they can best support you.
Tip #1: Educate yourself
Unfortunately, IBS is a disease that carries a lot of stigma, which can make living with it feel isolating and uncomfortable. If you have a loved one who lives with IBS, do your best to educate yourself about what IBS is and how it’s managed. It’s important to remember that IBS is a chronic condition in which people living with it have ongoing abdominal pain and bathroom issues. It can often seem like an “invisible illness,” which can increase the stigma people feel when they’re living with it. What is IBS?
Tip #2: Support their dietary changes
For many people living with IBS, certain foods can trigger symptoms. Avoiding these foods can often feel isolating for people living with IBS. If your loved one is implementing dietary changes (for example, the low FODMAP diet), show your support by helping them grocery shop or finding recipes that include foods that they’re able to eat. Also, understand that many people’s IBS triggers can change over time – try not to become frustrated if what someone can tolerate one day becomes a trigger on another day.
Tip #3: Be flexible
Anyone living with IBS knows that a flare-up can strike at any moment. This unpredictability is one of the most frustrating parts of living with IBS. If your loved one suddenly cancels plans, be understanding. They are likely disappointed that they had to cancel, and the last thing you want is to make them feel guilty for something they can’t control. If it’s possible, try and change your plans to something more low-key, like staying in and watching movies. People with IBS often feel isolated because of the unpredictability of their symptoms, so make sure they feel loved and included, even if they’re not able to participate in all the activities you plan.
Tip #4: Don’t be overprotective
IBS is different for everyone, and at the end of the day, your loved one knows their body best. What might be a trigger for one person might be just fine for another person. Understand that your loved one has likely spent a lot of time learning how to manage their condition and that they don’t need unsolicited advice about what to do or what not to do. The best thing you can do is provide support when they need it and offer compassion when they’re struggling.
IBS is a chronic, debilitating condition that can often leave people feeling isolated. If you have a loved one living with IBS, do your best to educate yourself about the condition, be flexible and understanding, and be ready to provide support when they need it.
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?