To coincide with Self-Care Week (13-19 November), our member, Lara, who has lived with IBS for a number of years, shares some tips on how she manages her condition.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be a debilitating condition that leaves you feeling like you’ve lost control of your body. Severe abdominal cramps, diarrhoea and/or constipation, nausea, headaches, fatigue and other symptoms make it hard to know which way is up most of the time. It can be pretty scary and many people with IBS aren’t given much information from their GPs to help them manage their symptoms in the long-term. It is left to the individual to devise their own programme of self-care in order to get their symptoms back under control. So where do you start?
Do your research – most importantly, you need to understand your condition before you can start to tackle it. The IBS Network charity has a wealth of information where you will learn about all aspects of IBS and its long-term management. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice from medical professionals or other people living with the condition. There is a lot of bad or unreliable information out there regarding IBS so make sure you are getting it from a trustworthy source.
Track your triggers – keep a diary noting down what you eat, your symptoms, any significant events or emotions and the amount of sleep you get each day. The longer you keep the diary the better a picture you can get of your habits and potential triggers. Once you have found your triggers you can start to work on how to deal with them.
Seek support – working with your GP to find the right medications for your IBS can be vital in regaining control. There are so many different types of drugs that can be used to treat different symptoms of IBS that you can be overwhelmed by them. If your triggers are food based than a dietitian may be able to help you. DO NOT try any elimination or strict exclusion diets without the support of a fully trained dietitian as they can be harmful in the long-term if done incorrectly. Many people find that stress is a huge trigger for their IBS so talking to a counsellor or therapist may help you work through the emotional issues surrounding your IBS.
Exercise and ‘mindfulness’ – gentle exercise like yoga, pilates, swimming or even just walking can help regain control of your IBS. Exercising is a natural way of producing endorphins which is the chemical in our brains that helps energise and relax our bodies. Practising mindfulness can also help you relax and reduce stress (which is a common trigger for IBS flare-ups). A form of meditation, mindfulness can help the mind focus and regain control over the body.
Know your limits – having control of your body means you need to know when to stop. Prolonged stress and overworking can aggravate your IBS. In order to manage your symptoms, you need to listen to your body. Getting enough rest and relaxation is key.
Lastly, stay positive. Taking control of your IBS can take time and effort. If one strategy doesn’t work, don’t give up! Move on and try something else. It’s all a bit trial and error – different things work for different people. The most important thing is to stay positive – it will get easier and less painful. At least, it has for me after many years trying to work through these.
The IBS Network’s Self-Care Programme provides comprehensive and reliable advice on managing IBS symptoms.
About the author
Lara is a member of The IBS Network, the national charity which supports people living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and runs the monthly support groups in Durham. Find out more about IBS support groups here: https://www.theibsnetwork.org/self-help-groups/
You can read more blogs related to IBS and gut health here.