These tips on how not to deal with an Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) flare-up come from first-hand experience. Experiences of flare-ups will vary from individual to individual, but one thing I’m sure we can all agree – they’re bloody ‘orrible and can leave you feeling completely washed out and detached from yourself. But it’s important not to let it completely knock you – it’s the body’s way of saying ‘Wait, I need some TLC!’ I hope the below ways of how not to deal with an IBS flare-up are useful, and please feel free to comment with more.
1. Beat yourself up
This can seem the most automatic reaction – questions of, ‘What did I eat/do? Why today? What have I done differently?’ easily pop into the mind, especially if it’s been a long time since the last flare-up occurred. Yet, what does this questionning achieve? It’s happened, and now it’s about dealing with it and being kind to yourself!
Rather than beat yourself up, keep track of the food you’ve eaten, how you’ve been feeling, and the symptoms you’ve experienced. Monash University have a food and symptom diary within their app, or if you prefer pen to paper, you can print one off. Having this information is really handy to take with you when you visit your doctor or dietitian.
2. Keep it to yourself
Whatever you do, don’t do this! After all, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and talking through how you’re feeling with someone you trust can make a big difference. As the NHS states,
“There is [also] some evidence to suggest that psychological factors play an important role in IBS. However, this does not mean that IBS is “all in the mind”, because symptoms are very real. Intense emotional states such as stress and anxiety can trigger chemical changes that interfere with the normal workings of the digestive system.”
Remember that it’s not “all in the mind” – having felt this before, I know that having such a belief doesn’t help and it can soon become a vicious cycle. You start to question, “Is it all in my head?” and then your mind begins to believe it, worsening symptoms.
3. Be embarrassed
Do you know how many people suffer with IBS? The answer is A LOT! As much as facing a topic as personal as this may be up there as one of the most embarrassing, it really shouldn’t be that way. We’re all human, after all, and bodily functions are part of the package! If only we talked about it more…but wait a minute! That’s exactly the aim of Tammy Newell’s website, ‘Gut Feelings‘. There, you can read about others’ experiences of IBS (including my own) as well as share your own story. Or check out the ‘Gut Health Empire’, set up by Samantha Jones, a supportive community where IBS sufferers can share experiences, recipes and ask questions in a judge-free environment. Both are great ways of breaking those IBS taboos and encouraging people to talk about something that affects a whopping one fifth of the population. So, don’t be embarrassed, join the IBS community!
4. Ignore the power of the breath
The breath is a very powerful thing, so don’t ignore it! Okay, aside from the small matter that we wouldn’t be alive without it, it has the power to ground you and bring you back to the moment. A flare-up can create anxiety and worry, with thoughts racing off to the ‘what ifs’. The practice of mindfulness teaches to simply ‘be’. It’s about observing without criticising yourself. Try saying to yourself, “It’s okay to feel this way!” Mindfulness can’t and won’t solve problems, but it WILL help with putting things back into perspective and changing the way you look at things.
5. Insist on carrying on
I think this passage taken from the IBS network sums this point up perfectly:
“Don’t try to do too much. Look upon your gut as your alarm signal. If it goes off, slow down, relax, don’t push through your symptoms, take a break. Talk about your problems. Work with your gut, not against it. Think food and mood!”
When you experience a flare-up, it can seem like the best thing is just to push through it – but that’s working against what your body is telling you. For me, it’s feet up and a mint tea. But do whatever is right for you – we respond in very different ways!
In conclusion, turn these negatives into positives:
- Be kind to yourself
- Remember we’re all human
- Focus on the breath
- Take a break