Managing the volume and frequency of what’s coming out of your body (farts n’ poop), especially for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), has always focused on what’s going in.
And rightfully so; IBS is a gastrointestinal issue that affects the digestive system, causing bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and other symptoms fit for dinnertime conversation.
But another way to assuage belligerent IBS flare-ups is by using your mind. The brain is a powerful thing, and being mindful can be a tool to manage IBS symptoms if you’re all out of Tums. Mindfulness is how monks can walk on burning hot coals, how David Blaine defies death, how parents can survive taking their kids to The Wiggles concert.
Here are a few tricks you can use to help manage your IBS in other ways besides diet.
In a pilot study, the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a couple of Harvard affiliates, first examined how meditation and relaxation can affect GI disorders like IBS.
“Several studies have found that stress management techniques and other psychological interventions can help patients with IBS, at least in the short term; and while the evidence for IBD is less apparent, some studies have suggested potential benefits. What is novel about our study is demonstration of the impact of a mind/body intervention on the genes controlling inflammatory factors that are known to play a major role in IBD and possibly in IBS,” explains Braden Kuo, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of medicine.
There are various forms of meditation that try to achieve the body’s ‘relaxation response’; the study reports that those regularly achieving that state of relaxation significantly improved IBS-related symptoms, reduced anxiety, and boosted overall quality of life.
Meditation techniques are all over the internet, or you can sign up for a class where you’ll also learn breathing and visualization strategies, both of which can help you towards a relaxation response.
This relaxation technique is centered on tensing, and then relaxing certain muscle groups. Combined with calm breathing techniques, this is another way to find that relaxation response in your body.
You can try the exercise routine outlined here from the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders to start. The circuit takes about 20-25 minutes to complete, which is time well spent – would you rather be improving the vitality of your body and mind, or sitting on the toilet playing with your smartphone?
Cognitive behavioral therapy for IBS is relatively new, but recent medical trials are encouraging.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo, Northwestern University, and New York University joined forces to develop and test a CBT strategy to treat IBS. They concluded that the study’s participants were successful in controlling IBS symptoms with almost no guidance from health professionals. These people noted severe and constant IBS issues before the trial.
“This is a novel, game-changing treatment approach for a public health problem that has real personal and economic costs, and for which there are few medical treatments for the full range of symptoms,” said Jeffrey Lackner, PsyD, the study’s lead author said in a press release.
Part of the program consisted of brain-gut information, self-monitoring of symptoms, worry control, muscle relaxation, and problem solving.
“The treatment is based on cutting-edge research that shows that brain-gut connection is a two-way street. Our research shows that patients can learn ways to recalibrate these brain-gut interactions in a way that brings them significant symptom improvement that has eluded them through medical treatments,” Lackner said.