Simple Ways To Reduce Stress When You Deal With IBS

There's no doubt that irritable bowel syndrome, commonly referred to as IBS, is an uncomfortable condition. It's also a chronic condition, and the symptoms are likely to persist for a long period of time, according to the Mayo Clinic. Pain in the abdomen, cramping, bloating, and changes in the way bowel movements look (such as mucus in stool) or the frequency at which the bowel movements occur are some notable symptoms of IBS.

As you could imagine, experiencing these symptoms on a consistent basis can be quite stressful for individuals who have IBS. This can become a catch-22 situation, as the Mayo Clinic explains that stress can also exacerbate IBS symptoms. According to WebMD, one theory is that the colon can react to strong emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression due to the brain sending pain signals to the gut. In an interview with Everyday Health, gastrointestinal psychologist Dr. Megan Riehl further explains that stress can activate the hormone cortisol, which can have effects on the digestive system.

While one might not be able to get rid of their IBS symptoms completely, they may be able to relieve some of their symptoms by taking steps to minimize their stress levels. As explained by WebMD, keeping your stress levels down can ease IBS symptoms because the gut communicates with the brain via the enteric nervous system.

How can someone with IBS manage their stress?

For someone struggling with IBS symptoms, there are methods they can try that may regulate their stress levels, with one of these methods being exercise. Dr. Riehl told Everyday Health that exercising releases feel-good endorphins while reducing cortisol levels. Levels of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that alleviates stress, increase during exercise. As a result of these biochemical changes, people with IBS may feel less stressed after exercising. According to WebMD, physical activities like walking, running, and swimming can help keep the bowels from overreacting. 

Deep breathing may also alleviate stress related to IBS symptoms. Dr. Riehl suggests diaphragmatic breathing in particular, which has a direct influence on the brain as well as the cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the diaphragm is a muscle at the base of the lungs that is essential for breathing. Also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing has a number of health benefits, such as promoting relaxation and lowering blood pressure and heart rate. 

The Harvard Gazette adds that meditation can also reduce the severity of IBS symptoms. By triggering the body's relaxation response, meditation can relieve stress and affect the body's physiology, such as heart rate and oxygen consumption. Although you can practice deep breathing and meditation on your own, WebMD shares that there are online and in-person courses. If you would like to meet other individuals living with the condition, you might find it helpful to consider joining an IBS support group.