Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Stress
by Gary Turner
Irritable bowel syndrome and stress. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or ‘IBS’, is a disorder involving a collection of symptoms that can include abdominal pain and cramping and changes in bowel movements. IBS has no known cause, though can follow infection of the intestines and periods of stress.
In this blog post I’m going to give some generalised information and advice to make the subject easier to be understood.
IBS is heavily linked to stress, and there is masses of research that clearly indicate the link between the two. Our cells and our brain are always communicating in order to create homeostasis where the correct environment is created for our cells to live. This is what maintains our body temperature, our blood glucose and energy levels and everything we need to sustain life.
The intestine is connected to the brain in this way and the signals between them affect bowel function and symptoms. Stress results in communication causing the intestines to become more sensitive and contract more, therefore creating, sustaining or increasing the ‘flare-ups’ of IBS.
The medical definition of ‘syndrome’ is a “set of symptoms occurring together” or “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterise a particular abnormality”. There is often no pathology that can connect the symptoms together and sometimes no pathology at all. This means that one person’s IBS may be completely different to another person’s by way of cause and actual symptoms.
As a result of this I can only give general advice as everyone with IBS has individual conditions and what approach may work for one may not work for another. This last comment is accurate to diet changes, supplements or drug approaches to dealing with IBS. For example some research will say avoid high fibre diets whilst other research states the opposite. Finding what diet changes work for you is most appropriate, and this may take careful experimentation.
Some of your friends will tell you to take certain foods or supplements to help, or avoid certain foods. Remember that it is your condition, and your life. Ask yourself how your body digests these and the resultant effects on the body. This way, should they work, you may find that you can ‘generalise’ this knowledge and find more solutions.
There is a massive psychological effect on IBS. It is well known and researched that stress exacerbates the symptoms of IBS, and may often be the cause of some people’s symptoms. Create a calmer, more peaceful lifestyle and the symptoms can be reduced considerably. Whereas I work to control (on/off switch) and regulate (turning the dial) stress with hypnotherapy there are a host of psychological approaches that can be used in this respect.
Working with clients in hypnotherapy I often find that the development of IBS is due to associated learning (Google ‘classical conditioning’). This is where the mind and body have had a learning experience where the symptoms of IBS are associated with a period of stress. I often find that clients’ IBS starts at University, when they are eating and drinking ‘dodgy’ foods resulting in a sick stomach at the time of exam stress and pressure.
The two become linked, and, each time they get stressed, the mind goes “Hey! I remember!” and creates the symptoms in the digestive system. By breaking the association I have helped many people free themselves from IBS.
Sometimes the genesis of the IBS is not clear, or is a ‘by-product’ of another disease such as diverticulitis. This is a common digestive disease where ‘pouches’ (diverticula) are formed in the bowel wall which may become inflamed (giving the ‘itis’). Therefore diverticulitis is inflammation of the pouches. Symptoms are in common with IBS together with the associated abdominal pains.
If you are experiencing pain with IBS there are several approaches that can be utilised. It is worth remembering that ALL pain is created in the brain and is a ‘perception’. As such pain is regulated and controlled through the psych. This is how fighters and soldiers can ignore pain at times of action (through ‘descending’ regulation) and how a confused signal can reduce the experience of pain (through ‘efferent’ regulation).
The ‘subjective experience’ of pain, or the ‘perception’ of pain, is also worst when negative emotions are present. Negative emotions cause the body to tense up and close off, including changes such as constriction within the digestive tract. This can exacerbate the symptoms of IBS. If the negative emotions are regulated or associations are removed the person can live happier, and reduce or remove the pain.
I use hypnotherapy to change peoples’ experience of pain – after all, pain IS just in the mind. I often take people’s pain away in about a minute of work at workshops and seminars, just to show I can do what I say I can. Nothing ‘woo-woo’ or magical about it, it is just the application of knowledge into the perception of pain. There are also many approaches to resolving pain – hypnosis is just one delivery method.
So if you or someone you know has IBS what should you do?
Firstly I would suggest you educate yourself and gain learning around the entire subject. Become an expert in it. As everyone’s IBS is individual, you need to take the right advice and the right steps for YOU. Knowledge is most definitely power in this respect. Everyone will give you an opinion – you need to identify what is right for you. Look to the medical research as to the efficacy of approaches – Google Scholar and Pubmed will be your friends here. Question everything especially from doctors. Even question the advice I am giving you now.
Secondly I would suggest that you get some psychological help with the condition. I of course use hypnosis as my intervention delivery method – yet there are many psychological approaches that can help. The right approach will help you remove and reduce stress, lessen negative emotions, manage any pain, and may just find a psychological origin to free you up from IBS completely.
Thirdly don’t let it form your ‘identity’. Let yourself run your life, not your IBS. You are still the same person. Remain that person.
I really do hope this blog post has helped you – IBS affects too many people. If you know someone who suffers from IBS please feel free to share to them.