Stress affects everyone in one way or another, but when you suffer from IBS, stress can have a compounding effect on your IBS symptoms. This affects IBS in a very real way and it can leave you feeling gut-wrenched (literally). The good news is, I’ve got three ways to deal with it!
The human body is incredible in so many ways, but one of the greatest ways (in my opinion) is the gut-brain connection. When we perceive sudden or short-term stress, it can cause our bodies to experience a “fight or flight” response. “Fight or flight” response is an amazing ability of the human body that prepares the body to defend itself internally in order to keep the body working. Once the stress passes, the brain produces a negative feedback to end the stress response and bring the body back to its usual state of wellbeing. However, if the stressor becomes chronic, the body may stay in a state of “fight or flight.” (1)
During this time, your body is producing an abundance of hormones, such as cortisol. This may directly or indirectly affect the function of your gut and your sympathetic nervous system (that’s the system in the body that activates the “fight or flight” response). Stress also alters the cells in our bodies which can affect the contact between the brain and the gut. (1)
Think of it like your body gearing up to fight or run away from a bear; only, in reality, the “bear” is your boss or stopped-dead traffic when you’re already late. Your body is ready for action but never gets the opportunity to act, and your sympathetic nervous system takes over. You’re left with all these stress hormones circulating, a fast-beating heart, muscle tension, heightened senses, constricted blood vessels, and a restricted (or in some cases overactive) digestive system. Your body reacts this way to protect itself in the event that the bear attacks, except there’s no bear. You’re left with fatigued adrenals, heart issues, headaches, muscle pain, cold and clammy hands, and digestive distress.
As it relates to IBS, this stress response (as in your body getting ready to deal with a bear!) often results in the bowels either holding it in (constipation) or evacuating it all out (diarrhea).
So how can you deal with stress and get your mind and body feeling fabulous again? I’ve got three ways to help you deal.
3 WAYS TO DEAL WITH STRESS:
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback uses electrical sensors to help you receive information about the way your body functions. This feedback is then used to provide you with places you can focus on making subtle changes–including the way you breathe or relaxing certain muscles to keep your symptoms at bay. Find a local practitioner or try it with an at home device like HeartMath.
- Progressive Relaxation Exercises. These exercises help you to relax the muscles in your body by targeting each muscle group. First, you must tighten a certain muscle group (your calves for instance) as you breathe in and then relax the muscles as you breathe out. You may do this with all the muscle groups in your body until your entire body is relaxed. I created an audio file that I think will help you. It’s a quick exercise that you can do to reduce the stress hormones your body releases.
- Mindfulness Training. This is a technique that helps you to be in the moment instead of worrying about the future or the past. This can include things like meditating daily for several minutes or incorporating a yoga practice into your routine! Get started at mindful.org.
Stress will undoubtedly be a part of your life, but if you can find ways to deal with it, you can work on reducing the effects of stress on IBS. If eating Low FODMAP has you stressed out, take a look at this Guide to my Favorite Products and Brands and my 7 Day Elimination Phase Meal Plan so you can take the guesswork and stress out of low FODMAP grocery shopping and meal planning.