Dear Dr. Alayo:
I am a 37 year old female with IBS. I take medication and try as best I can to avoid foods that cause my GI symptoms to flare up. I have heard that stress can also make my IBS worse. I am married, work part-time and care for my two small children.
Are there any other things I can do, besides taking medications, to control and reduce my IBS symptoms?
Thank you for your question and I am pleased to respond. There is no question that medication can help with the frequency and intensity of IBS symptoms. The consensus of research indicates that stress is no doubt a trigger for IBS symptoms.
Despite our best efforts we often cannot control the external events that trigger stress in our bodies. Life happens. The good news is that we are able to control how we respond to stress.
Stress has gotten a bad rap. Stress is not inherently a bad thing and it is only when the level of threat posed. If our body reacted to missing a deadline the same way it would to being chased by a tiger, we would have a problem.
As discussed in our previous blog post, cultivating practices that calm the mind can have a direct impact on the body’s response to inflammation in the bowel. In other words, the calmer the mind the less the inflammation!
It does sound like you have a lot on your plate. But there is more good news! There are simple and effective things you can do to calm the mind, reduce stress and ultimately, reduce your IBS symptoms. In our practice at GastroSB in San Diego we recommend that patients explore yoga and meditation. Both Yoga and meditation are extremely effective in calming the mind and the body and have been shown time and again to reduce stress. They also aid in healthy sleep habits. There is also research demonstrating that these practices all help with IBS symptoms.
And you don’t need to go to India to learn yoga! I personally recommend that my patients learn the yoga poses under the guidance of an experienced teacher. However, there are many resources online to get you started. This allows you to practice at home at your own pace.
Start slowly with simple poses focusing on slow and steady breathing. Start with just 10-15 minutes a day, slowly increasing the time and intensity as you get more comfortable. When you are ready, drop-in on a local yoga class. Make sure to check with the yoga studio to make sure they have beginner classes.
There are also many resources available to start a mediation practice. There are numerous podcasts, apps and online meditation classes available to explore. The good thing about meditation, like yoga, is that it doesn’t take big chunks of time and can be practiced virtually anywhere. It is a good idea to start with a guided practice for just a few minutes a day. As you become more accustomed to mediation you can slowly increase the duration. It is totally up to you!
Again, thank you for your question. This is an important area that we address with our patients at GastroSB. Please stay tuned to future blog posts for more in-depth discussions about ways to help digestive issues like IBS with complementary therapies.
This article is part of ask our the doctor series. Each month were will publish responses to questions commonly asked by patients who have been diagnosed with or suspect they have digestive disorders. These posts are for informational purposes only and if you are suffering from or suspect you have a digestive disorder, please consult with a physician. You may also contact us to make an appointment.