Some people call it a “nervous stomach”, some call it irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)… But, whatever you call it, the symptoms can be debilitating and long-lasting. Stress, anxiety and tension can all take their toll on your digestive system, resulting in a range of unpleasant physical symptoms.
These symptoms may serve to increase your feelings of stress, resulting in a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break. Symptoms include:
- abdominal cramps
- diarrhoea or constipation, or both
- excess gas
Causes of IBS
Experts are not completely clear what causes IBS but they believe that low level inflammation, changes in the motility of the colon or disruption to the gut bacteria may all play a part. Intolerance to certain foods and a family history of IBS are also risk factors.
Symptoms tend to flare up at times of stress and anxiety, which means that managing them requires a multi-layered approach to tackle both the sources of stress and the physical symptoms.
Calming Your Stomach
There are some effective steps you can take to calm stress in your body and reduce the symptoms of IBS:
- Avoid caffeine (found in coffee, tea, chocolate fizzy and caffeinated drinks).
- Drink plenty of water – if you have diarrhoea you need to replace lost fluids, while if you have constipation you need more water in your diet to keep things moving through your digestive system and prevent a build-up of toxins. Dehydration is a major cause of stress to your body and brain.
- Exercise – this releases endorphins which are neurochemicals that help to alleviate stress chemicals that can build up in the body and promote relaxation. Exercise also encourages you to breathe more deeply which relieves anxiety and improves blood flow. Walking in the fresh air or exercising to music is a great way to relieve stress.
- Avoid trigger foods – it can be helpful to keep a food and symptom diary so you understand precisely which foods trigger your IBS symptoms. Certain foods are common allergens and some people start by eliminating these from their diet one at a time to see if they experience a reduction in IBS symptoms. Common allergens include: dairy, wheat and other grains containing gluten, sugar, peanuts, shellfish, pork, caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits, yeast and soy.
- Get more sleep – sleep is when your body heals and restores itself. If you are having problems getting to sleep try relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing. It is helpful to have a calming bedtime routine – a warm bath and avoiding screens for an hour before bedtime may be helpful.
- Don’t smoke.
IBS can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life. People with the condition often report avoiding social situations for fear of embarrassment. Cramping and bloating can make it difficult to participate in everyday activities and IBS can sometimes lead to anxiety and depression.
Talk to specialists | IBS Doctors London
There is no need to suffer in silence. In addition to the steps you can take yourself to calm your symptoms, there are a number of effective treatments that a specialist doctor may be able to recommend to help you manage the condition.
It is important to seek medical advice if you think you may have IBS as the condition shares a number of symptoms with other more serious gastrointestinal disease and your doctor will want to rule these out before making a diagnosis.