Getting to know your symptoms
Before you can create an effective treatment plan, it is important to know and understand what triggers your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and keeps them going. This could be things like activities or thoughts that work against you. When you are aware of the factors that trigger or worsen your symptoms, you can take action to change them. As we mentioned, irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and the things that influence them can vary a lot from person to person. For any treatment to be effective, it must be matched specifically to your needs.
Before trying to make huge changes in your life, it can be helpful to simply monitor your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Getting to know your symptoms is an important part of recovering from them. By observing your symptoms, you can start to identify patterns in how they present. Perhaps they show up more in certain environments or situations. Observation also allows you to gain more insight into the factors that worsen your symptoms. For example, you may notice that certain emotions trigger cramps and bloating or that exercise triggers diarrhea.
People respond to their irritable bowel syndrome symptoms in many different ways. You can think of these ways of responding as ‘coping strategies’. For example, some people try to avoid situations or spend excessive time resting to try and minimise their symptoms. Others may do the opposite by trying to ignore their symptoms and push on with their usual daily tasks. Some coping strategies are more helpful than others. Coping strategies that help one person may make things worse for another, so it is important that you learn what works best for you. The first step is to monitor how you currently respond to your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
After identifying how you currently cope, you may learn that it does not allow you to do the things that are most important to you. In this case, your treatment plan should involve learning new coping skills and changing or eliminating old ones.
One of the first steps in any treatment plan should be to keep a daily symptom monitoring record. Your symptom monitoring record should prompt you to:
- Monitor your irritable bowel syndrome symptoms (what are they, when and where do they occur)
- Identify the things that seem to trigger or worsen your symptoms (situations, places, thoughts, behaviours, emotions etc.)
- Notice how you respond to your symptoms (thoughts, behaviours, emotions)
Observing the above allows you to collect the necessary information to guide your next steps. It also creates a detailed picture that forms your baseline or starting point for recovery. As you progress through this course, and perhaps explore other treatment options, you can compare your symptom monitoring over time to assess your progress. People are often not great at accurately remembering what their symptoms were like in the past. Therefore, having a record can help you avoid bias and give you the motivation you need to keep going.