We have already touched upon the the links between stress and IBS. This does require a great deal further exploration as it is such a key cause for IBS, particularly when IBS comes on later in life. Stress can creep up on you when you are unaware, that is a huge part of it’s ability to do so much damage.
Slow and incremental changes are much harder to notice until you have gone too far and really need help. Dramatic changes are much easier to notice, and deal with. We like to use the wine analogy, as it is often a great way to measure your stress.
Many people like a drink after work to take the ‘edge’ of the day, however few of us could state at what point having a drink when we get home ceases to be a nice treat and becomes a habit. One glass ? Two ? The bottle ? This incremental increase is very typical of the way in which stress creeps into your life.
Many of the accompaniments to stress have already been highlighted as enemies of IBS, whether it be caffeine, alcohol, poor diet and pills, stress increases our desire for the things we really should avoid. It is one thing to highlight this and another to wean yourself off of these ‘helpers’.
Stress often leads to poor sleep, which is not good for digestion, this is then topped off with a need for caffeine and often sugar to keep you going, all of which is deeply unpleasant for the digestive system. Irregular meals, skipping breakfast all add to the strain on your digestive system.
One Problems, Very Different Outcomes
Stress is one of the conditions which undermines many of our arguments about the treatment of IBS. Throughout this site we frequently state the need to treat IBS according to your own symptoms as we are unique. To make this point we often highlight the fact that IBS covers both constipation and diarrhea.
Stress is one of the few things that can lead to both. Stress is known to effect the motility of our digestive system, to which end, stress can indeed cause either constipation or diarrhea. The way in which stress effects our diet is a large factor behind this, however it is clear the deeper your research stress the closer the links.
Top Ten Tips
We have touched upon the effects of stress, and on the previous page recommended some reading. Learning to deal with stress does not come overnight, nor do all the tips and suggestions necessarily work. They will give you a pointer and we always believe that it is worth trying everything you can when your health and well being is at stake.
Below is a top ten list of de-stressers, there are many such lists out there. We hope you find some of the tips useful to you:
1. Learn to Say "No"
Set yourself realistic expectations and learn how to say "no" when your workload or social and family commitments get too much. Asking for help is not about failure, it's part of good team work.
2. Take a Break
According to the International (opens in a new window)Stress Management Association UK (opens in a new window), "you will perform more effectively during work after even a short 10/15 minute break, easily making up the time you used for relaxing." So stop eating your lunch at your desk and use this time instead to clear your head and recharge your batteries.
Physical activity is a great way to let off some steam. Exercise releases endorphins, our natural "feel good" hormones, which boost energy levels and counteract stress hormones, such as cortisol. Find a cardiovascular activity that is fun and achievable, whether it's walking, dancing, a gym workout or a lunchtime run through the park.
4. Learn to Switch Off
Leaving the office for the day? Then it's time to switch off your work brain as well as your mobile or Blackberry. Unless you need to be on call for work, there's rarely anything that can't be solved the next day with renewed perspective.
5. Breathe Deep
When we're stressed we tend to shallow breathe, which leads to increased anxiety and hyperventilation. Tekla Kosa, an expert in a relaxation technique called Autogenic Training (opens in a new window), suggests this simple relaxation technique you can do anywhere.
Take a deep breath into your diaphragm so that you feel your ribs expanding
Once you feel your breath is full, take three more little breaths and hold
Then, exhale fully and try to take three more small exhalations and hold
Repeat 3-4 times
6. Watch the Caffeine
Drinks like coffee, tea, cola and alcohol all release adrenalin into your bloodstream, which in turn actually increases stress levels. If you must drink tea, switch to green or white tea. Both are full of antioxidants, which are said to fight the oxidative damage that stress can cause within the body.
7. Be Positive
Most stressors are simply a matter of how you perceive them. Take a step back and think, is this something I really need to worry about? Simply changing your viewpoint may help you to see it from a more positive angle.
8. It's All in the Planning
Be creative about your time management. Before you leave work, make a list of "to do's". Crossing completed items off a list also helps you to feel a sense of accomplishment.
9. Get a Good Night's Sleep
Laying awake at night? One of the side-effects of stress is insomnia, which just makes us even more stressed, tired and irritable. Turn off the TV and try to have a warm (not hot) bath, read a book or listen to music before bedtime. Keeping a notebook by your bedside allows you to write down all those things that pop into your head so that they don't play on your mind while you sleep.
10. Find Your Outlet
According to author Robert M. Sapolsky of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers (opens in a new window)", finding an outlet for your frustrations, and doing it regularly, is one of the keys to effective stress management. Whether it be social gatherings, dancing, meditation, religion or knitting, it's important to find a way to offload your energy and passion that is enjoyable and works for you.