Summer is over and many of us are looking ahead to autumn with all the challenges that it brings. Going back to work, school or university after a break is often difficult for people, adjusting to having to get up with the alarm and a fully structured day ahead. But for the 12 million people in the UK who are living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, (IBS), this time can be particularly difficult. Even travelling to and from work and to meetings can be very challenging.
However, if you are one of those 12 million, there are a few tactics which might help you in adjusting to your new routine.
Talk about your IBS with someone
One of the regular concerns that people tell us about at The IBS Network is that they feel isolated and worried that they will be ridiculed about their condition. Experience has shown them that they are often not taken seriously and sometimes colleagues think they are shirking their responsibilities with too many frequent visits to the toilet.
Although it might be embarrassing, talking about your IBS with your line manager or someone you trust might help relieve the pressure a little and break that vicious circle of stress and anxiety about visiting the toilet. Explain the effect that additional stress can have on your symptoms. Keeping it a secret is more likely do you more harm than good. I know that this will be really difficult for some, but your colleagues cannot help or support you if they do not know or understand what you are going through.
Take care of yourself
Although your IBS symptoms and triggers will be different to others living with the condition, remember, you are not on your own. The IBS Network charity has created a fully comprehensive IBS Self-Care Programme to help you manage your IBS (www.theibsnetwork.org/the-self-care-plan).
Sometimes small changes to your diet and daily life can have a positive impact on your symptoms. If you don’t already, start keeping a food and mood diary. This will help you to understand your triggers and you might be able to organise your life and minimise the effect of these triggers, enabling you to go to work without the fear of a flare-up. With a bit of distance from the day to day pressures, you may be able to look back at your diary over a few months and more easily identify patterns and understand your body better.
Having spoken with your employer you might like to discuss flexible ways of working that will fit better with your condition. Sometimes simple changes to your work environment will make a really positive impact on the way you feel. For example, moving where you sit in the office which allows you easier (and maybe more discreet) access to the toilet might help you feel less anxious and result in fewer visits. Negotiate regular breaks with your manager and talk about your work load if that is one of your worries.
Your eating routine
Your diet and eating routine can make your IBS better or worse. Even though it might be tempting, try not to miss meals. It’s important that you keep to a routine and eat and drink (non-carbonated and decaf drinks) regularly. “What can I eat?” At the charity, we get asked this question a lot! It’s not straightforward to answer as everyone’s triggers are different. Sometimes it is not the actual food that you eat, but the environment in which you eat the food that is the key. A rushed sandwich at your desk/in your car between meetings might be enough to set off your IBS. Set the alarm 20 minutes earlier so that you have time for breakfast, prepare your lunch the night before so that you are in control and take time to eat your food.
If you need some ideas of recipes for a sensitive gut have a look at https://www.theibsnetwork.org/news/recipes/. You will also find some recipe books that you can purchase at https://www.theibsnetwork.org/shop/books
Simply by having all that you might need with you or to hand might help you feel more in control. Keep a supply of your IBS medication, along with some wipes or anything else you might need during an attack, like spare underwear. You could purchase one of our emergency kits or maybe make one up of your own.
Practice mindfulness to manage stress
IBS is a complex condition with a range of variables contributing to an individuals’ flare-up. It is usually a combination of diet, stress and anxiety. We all feel stress sometimes in our daily lives. It’s impossible in this fast-paced world to avoid it altogether. But as you start to understand your body better and your own triggers you will be able to put things in place to minimise their effect. Many of our members say that managing their IBS holistically is key to them taking back control of their lives.
I know it is not always possible in a working day, but taking a short walk to get some fresh air or just being away from your desk for 10 minutes during your lunch break can help you recharge your batteries. Making time for yourself and thinking about your work/life balance might bring some equilibrium to your life and will positively impact on your condition.
About the author
Alison Reid is the CEO of the national charity, The IBS Network, which supports people living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
You can read more blogs related to IBS and gut health here.