Week 1: Understanding irritable bowel syndrome

Week 4: Healthy thinking, healthy self

Week 5: Balancing activity and reclaiming your life

Week 6: Maintaining your gains and staying well

General tips for managing symptoms in daily life

As we have discussed, navigating your way through life with irritable bowel syndrome can be difficult. Unpredictable symptoms make it hard to stick to plans, meet your commitments, and attend to your body’s needs. Below, we offer some general tips for managing daily life with irritable bowel syndrome. We will build on these tips further in future weeks.   

Tips for work and school

  • Set realistic goals. Don’t take on too much or try to overcompensate for the times you’ve been unwell. Feeling like you have to perform better or make up for lost time will just add to your stress and worsen your irritable bowel syndrome. If you are doing a good job, that is probably enough. There’s no need to aim for perfection.
  • Monitor your stress. Throughout the day, try to check in with yourself. If you’re feeling tense or overwhelmed, this may signal the need to take a break. A simple breathing or relaxation exercise may be enough to break the stress cycle. This can be hard to justify when you’re busy, but it is likely to boost your productivity in the long run. Try to keep your body in a relatively calm and relaxed state as much as possible.
  • Reduce your procrastination. If you frequently delay import ant tasks or leave them to the last minute, you’re likely adding unnecessary stress into your life. A better approach is to stop delaying and start doing. Breaking big tasks into smaller steps can be helpful here. Similarly, setting yourself simple targets each day can help you get started. 
  • Know your options. Get familiar with the policies and support options available to you through your workplace or study institution. This may involve speaking to HR or other support services. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for special assistance or benefits. Similarly, speak to your manager about alternative work arrangements, such as extensions, alternative shifts, or work from home options. 
  • Seek support. If you feel able to talk to your manager or teacher about your health, this may be helpful. If they understand your situation, you may feel less anxious about completing work late or taking time off. Similarly, many organisations provide a free of charge counselling service to their employees or students. You may benefit from accessing this type of support. 

Tips for social and leisure outings 

  • Eat lightly beforehand. Never attend a social event or leisure activity feeling extremely hungry. It is better to have something in your stomach in case the food there is not suitable for you. This will help you avoid starvation or eating foods that might trigger your symptoms. Remember, your digestive system functions much better when you eat consistently.
  • Notify of your special food needs ahead of time. If you’re attending an event or location, call the host, organiser, or restaurant beforehand to ask about their options. Advise them of any dietary requirements you have and check that they can accommodate them. If they are unable to accommodate your needs, perhaps eat beforehand or take your own food along. Alternatively, ask your companions if it’s possible to find a new restaurant. 
  • Manage your anxiety. Worrying about the event ahead of time or about what others are thinking during the event will just bring on your symptoms. It is important you learn strategies to manage your anxiety effectively. Relaxation exercises and mindfulness can help with this. Strategies to reduce focussing on your symptoms too much can also be useful. We learn more about these types of techniques next week. 
  • Be mindful of what you do and consume. Try to avoid getting swept away in the moment or giving in to peer pressure. Say ‘no’ to food, drinks, or activities that will cause you upset later on. This includes too much activity, overeating or consuming too much alcohol. Although a carefree attitude might seem right in the moment, you’ll likely regret it the next day. Keep this in mind during your outing. 
  • Enjoy the outing, but have a comfortable exit plan. Don’t let irritable bowel syndrome be your whole life. Try to enjoy your outing and the social interactions, even if the circumstances are not ideal. Going out can be a good distraction from your worries and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. It can also boost your mood, combat isolation and give you a sense of hope for the future. However, you are never trapped in a situation. Make sure you have enough money to cover your costs in case you feel ill. That way, you can inform your companions and head off. 

Tips for appearance-related concerns

  • Wear clothing you feel comfortable in. Pick clothing that makes you feel comfortable and attractive. Steer clear of uncomfortable or poorly fitting items, as these may trigger self-criticism. Be mindful of your body size and pick items that are flattering for you. 
  • Avoid comparisons. Avoid comparing yourself to others and be actively critical of media images that make you feel as if you should be different. Comparisons rarely end well and tend to be biased. If you notice yourself comparing, try to remove yourself from the situation and focus on something else. This may mean taking a break from social media. 
  • Appreciate what your body does well. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about your body, try to acknowledge what it does well for you on a daily basis. For example, thank your body for allowing you to walk or hug your child. This can be hard, especially when you feel as though your body is letting you down (like with irritable bowel syndrome). However, shifting your focus can be a powerful tool for improving how you feel about yourself.  
  • Acknowledge your strengths. Try to see yourself as a whole person, not just a defective body part. This involves recognising that beauty is not just about appearance. Acknowledge your strengths and the positive qualities you bring to the world. Start by making a list of 10 things you like about yourself. Refer back to your list when things get tough. 
  • Take care of your body. Focus on living a healthy lifestyle, rather than achieving a certain ‘look’ or ideal appearance. Do things that nourish your body and make you feel good. This may include making time to soothe your body (e.g., taking a warm bath, having a massage), getting enough rest and keeping physically active. Exercise should be about doing something you enjoy, not punishing yourself. 

Tips for travel

    • Go prepared. Whenever you leave the house, make sure you go prepared for anything. Take a little ‘emergency kit’ with you in case you get stuck. This may contain some extra toilet paper, wet wipes or soap, hand sanitizer, and a change of clothes.
    • Tell your travel buddies. If you feel comfortable, it can help to make the people you are travelling with aware of your needs. This way, they can support you by making frequent toilet stops or avoiding certain restaurants that don’t cater to your needs. 
  • Stick to your routine as much as possible. Changes in your routine can be disruptive and worsen symptoms. Try to stick to your regular routine as much as possible. This includes keeping your regular meals, exercise and sleep schedule. If suitable, take your own snacks or exercise equipment with you. 
  • Look after yourself. The demands of travel can take a huge toll on your health. As such, it is important to maintain good self-care. Make sure you use appropriate stress management techniques, maintain good hygiene, and drink plenty of water. Be mindful of what you have to eat and drink. In new countries, bottled water, cooked food or packaged options are safest. 

Pack the necessities. This includes making sure to pack any medications that you are currently taking. Don’t assume you will have access to the same types of medications in every location. Also, pack any other types of equipment that give you peace of mind (e.g., a portable toilet).