Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the Gut-Brain Interaction that can be challenging to manage, particularly at work. As an accredited CBT Psychotherapist supporting professionals to get relief from IBS, I hear a lot about the various issues IBS symptoms can cause at work.
Issues caused by IBS at work.
Issued caused by IBS at work include:
1. Embarrassment and anxiety: IBS symptoms such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea can be embarrassing and cause anxiety, especially when occurring in the workplace. This can make it difficult for you to focus on your work or interact with colleagues.
2. Time management: IBS symptoms may require frequent trips to the bathroom or other accommodations that can disrupt work schedules and productivity. This can lead to feelings of guilt or pressure to work longer hours to make up for the lost time.
3. Limited Flexibility: Some work environments may not be flexible enough to accommodate people with IBS. For example, jobs that require long periods of sitting, standing, or travel may be challenging for you if you have IBS. Depending on the workplace, individuals with IBS may not have access to private or easily accessible restrooms, which can exacerbate feelings of embarrassment and anxiety.
4. Food and beverage choices: Certain foods and beverages can potentially trigger IBS symptoms, and you may need to be cautious about your food choices and avoid trigger foods. This can be difficult when attending work-related events or eating meals with colleagues.
5. Stigma and misunderstanding: IBS is often stigmatised and misunderstood, which can make it difficult for you to discuss your condition with your employer or colleagues. Some people may not understand the severity of IBS and may dismiss it as a minor condition. This can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, and stress. This can create a barrier to career progression, as you may not receive the support you need to manage your symptoms effectively.
6. Reduced Confidence: The unpredictable nature of IBS symptoms can lead to reduced confidence, self-esteem, and increased anxiety. This can impact performance and make it harder to put yourself forward for opportunities or promotions.
7. Missed Work: People with IBS may need to take more time off work due to symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fatigue. This can lead to missed deadlines and impact their work performance, which can affect career progression.
Although there are many challenges, it is possible to learn how to manage IBS at work.
How to achieve productivity, progression, and promotion whilst managing IBS at Work.
Overall, managing IBS at work can be difficult, but there are strategies and accommodations that can help you to cope and maintain your productivity. Some can even improve well-being and enable you to progress in your career too if that’s what you desire.
Here are some suggestions to do just that:
1. Plan your meals and snacks: Pack a variety of small, frequent meals and snacks that are your known ‘safe’ foods so you can avoid possibly triggering IBS symptoms. Consider keeping some non-perishable snacks at work, such as nuts or rice cakes.
2. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help keep your digestive system functioning properly and may reduce the severity of IBS symptoms. The Eat Well Guide recommends 6-8 glasses of water a day.
3. Medication: Carry any prescribed medications with you. And remember to take them.
4. Manage stress: Stress is a common trigger for IBS symptoms, so try to find ways to manage stress at work. Consider practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation. Discussing issues in therapy can also be very beneficial.
5. Communicate with your employer: If your IBS symptoms are affecting your work, consider talking to your employer about your condition. Under the Equality Act 2010 your employer is legally bound to consider reasonable adjustments at work if your IBS causes you a disadvantage.
Workplace changes that may help include:
working from home
flexible working hours
easy access to toilets
more regular work breaks
monitoring and managing workload
6. Take breaks: Regular breaks throughout the workday can help reduce stress and prevent IBS symptoms from flaring up. Movement can also help to relieve some symptoms such as bloating or constipation.
7. Consider a standing desk: If sitting for long periods aggravates your symptoms, consider asking for a standing desk or adjustable workstation.
8. Use the toilet when needed: Don't delay using the loo when you feel the urge, as this can worsen IBS symptoms and discomfort. It can also confuse the messages sent between the gut and the brain.
9. Seek therapy: Seek specific IBS therapy to learn how to better manage IBS symptoms, stress, and your career prospects.
As you can see, there are many things to consider when managing IBS within the workplace. We may spend a large proportion of our time working, so it’s vital that you are not disadvantaged due to your IBS symptoms. Therefore, it is essential to communicate with employers and colleagues about any accommodations or support needed to manage your condition effectively. And make sure to reach out to a qualified, specialist professional if you require further support.
If you want to learn more about managing IBS at work, I’m holding a free training on April 26th, 2023, online. Click the button below to find out more about it.