Irritable Bowel Syndrome affects as many as one in five people at some point in their life. The exact cause isn’t known but it is believed to be related to increased sensitivity of the gut and problems digesting food. This causes abdominal pain and can result in the food passing too slowly or too quickly through the gut, resulting in either constipation or diarrhoea or sometimes both. Stress is also a contributory factor.
There is no cure for IBS however the symptoms can normally be successfully managed through a combination of lifestyle and dietary changes and specialist treatment. However, for many people with IBS one of the biggest challenges they face is coping with the condition in the workplace.
IBS causes many distressing and unpleasant symptoms and the fear of embarrassment can send your stress levels soaring, which only serves to exacerbate the problem. One of the concerns we hear most often from people with IBS is how they will manage their symptoms at work, particularly if they experience a flare-up. These are our top tips for coping with IBS in the workplace:
1. Plan ahead
One of the biggest stresses for many people is being caught unawares. If you suffer from IBS, keep a supply of medication at work. You may also like to keep a change of underwear and some wet wipes handy just in case. Knowing that you are prepared will alleviate some of the stress associated with the fear of a flare-up.
2. Eat regular meals
Another trigger for people with IBS is eating irregular meals or rushing their food. Plan your day so that there is sufficient time to eat breakfast without rushing and relax enough to go to the toilet before work. Take a proper lunch break and try to get away from your desk and have a walk in the fresh air over lunchtime, which can help to bring your stress levels down. It is a good idea to take food with you so you can avoid foods that trigger your symptoms and you can choose the right portion sizes. Make sure you stay well-hydrated and avoid caffeine in coffee and fizzy drinks.
3. Tell trusted colleagues
IBS is often referred to as a hidden condition because people are embarrassed by the symptoms and so try to keep it to themselves. But this can add to the stress so we advise telling trusted colleagues and your boss, if you can, so they can understand some of the challenges you are facing. A letter from your doctor can be helpful in explaining your condition and how it might impact you at work. If you are feeling unwell, it is helpful if your colleagues understand so that they can support you and cover for you if necessary. Because IBS is so common you might find that there are others at work experiencing the same symptoms.
4. Understand your illness
It is a good idea to read as much as you can about IBS and to get to know how the condition affects you. Keeping a food diary can help you to identify what triggers your symptoms so you can avoid these foods in the future.
5. Manage your stress
Developing a strategy for dealing with stress will help in all aspects of your life, including managing IBS. Yoga and meditation are proven techniques for reducing stress but even going for a walk in nature can also be helpful and it is free.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of IBS it is important to get a proper diagnosis as more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer share similar symptoms and it is important to rule these out. Also, once you have a diagnosis you will be able to discuss a treatment plan with your doctor to help you manage your symptoms better.