Whether we have a new diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or have known it for a while, it's really common for our emotions to be all over the place.
IBS is often considered a physical condition. However, it is so much more.
IBS affects how you think, what you do (and often what you don't do), and how you feel emotionally, as well as physically.
This means that when trying to understand IBS and the multitude of symptoms it causes, it's crucial to consider the effects on your emotions.
Anxiety and IBS
As human beings, our primary aim is to survive as individuals and as a race. We all have a biological mechanism to keep us safe, known as the fight or flight response.
It works brilliantly at keeping us physically safe in physically threatening situations, such as in a fire or a car accident. We will quickly remove ourselves from the situation. We flee from it so that we don't face any further harm.
However, if we have IBS, many of the threats we face are also psychological.
They can be the fear of messing yourself if you don't get to the toilet in time or being made redundant from your job for being less productive, or worrying that others may think you're skiving when you have to go to the loo so often. These psychological threats can be more long-term and cause more chronic stress.
These fears all have their roots in the same cause though; the need to survive.
If we fear being expelled from the tribe in some way or other, we can end up exposed and at more threat. With no tribe comes a threat to our basic needs; less money, food, shelter, and a sense of belonging. These cause us to feel vulnerable to the possibility of being extinguished as an individual. And creates even more fear.
So, when we experience IBS symptoms we face physical and psychological threats every day.
This causes acute spikes in anxiety and an underlying heightened stress response. This is why emotions feel so complex and changeable when suffering from IBS.
At first, we had a spike of anxiety when the diagnosis was first given, and then we have spikes every time we hear news of changes at work or face a decision around food. But there's a more subtle underlying unease.
Grief and IBS
IBS creates a grief response. There's a lot of loss with a diagnosis of IBS:
Loss of freedom.
Loss of life as you knew it.
Loss of connection with others.
A potential loss of an imagined, or planned, future.
Loss of routine.
Loss of purpose.
Loss of identity.
Loss of dignity in some cases.
Anger and IBS
With this loss comes huge grief and with grief comes anger. Anger is the opposite of anxiety and is the fight in the fight-or-flight response.
So, anger can present as indignation at employers who don't understand the severity of your symptoms. Or at friends that get frustrated when you cancel a night out due to a flare-up.
Grief affects how we regulate our emotions as well.
It literally changes how we process our daily experiences.
If you have IBS, you'll have suffered loss. Please don’t be hard on yourself. Grief is complex. It can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing. It can take time. You may need to spend some time reflecting before you are able to move on.
In the meantime, look after yourself in the process. Eat as well as you can, rest, accept support, take time in nature, and allow whatever emotions to surface. Grief will magnify and mess with your emotions. Let them be what they are, trying to suppress them will only store them for later. When you feel ready to move on, do so at your pace.
All strong emotions cause difficulty with concentration and planning and memory. This will all add to the frustration and potential self-admonishing that we all experience when we feel that we're underperforming or not good enough. If we’ve also been struggling to keep working whilst learning to manage IBS, we’re likely to fall back into those old thought patterns even easier.
Thoughts of not being good enough, or of wanting to do more, can cause us to feel low and that will start to affect our motivation on a day-to-day basis. This becomes another downward spiral.
So, the potential for our emotions to fluctuate is huge. The range and depth of emotions are huge, and the consequences of those emotions can be huge too. So, what can we do to best cope with this right now?
Ways to cope with emotional turmoil
Viktor Frankl, in 'Man’s Search for Meaning', stated that...
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies your power to choose your response. In those responses lie your growth and your freedom."
As human beings, we like to feel in control. IBS can steel this from us. Learning to stop, take a breath, then consciously chose what to do next, is a way to gain control. This can be learned in the following ways:
1. Awareness - you are only human, and you are going to have emotions. They are natural. Naming them will help to tame them. A good way to do this is through Therapeutic Journaling.
2. Acceptance - Remember that you can't control everything. You can only control yourself. Don't waste limited energy trying to control anything outside of you. Mindfulness meditation is a proven way to do this.
3. Kindness - Practice self-compassion, it's been proven to help alleviate stress and so can help to reduce IBS symptoms.
4. Support - Seek out support from those who understand. Feeling alone can intensify symptoms and emotions. Find others, online or in-person, with IBS to help motivate and encourage you to find positive ways of coping with IBS. The Beyond The Label - IBS community is a great place to start.
5. Professional help - Learn scientifically-proven, practical techniques to resolve IBS, reduce stress, and regain control, using the PETAL Plan
You can still plan your days
You can still see friends and family.
You can still exercise.
You can still have a choice in what you eat.
You can choose how you spend your time.
You can still have fun.
Without your emotions being all over the place.
Take a Moment to Take Your Power!
If you would like my help to implement any of these suggestions, book a free online consultation.
With hope and healing