Is the stress and anxiety about Coronavirus making your IBS worse? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. Given how drastically our lives have changed in such a short time due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it makes perfect sense that you would be experiencing greater stress and anxiety, thus worsening your IBS symptoms. As a licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other functional GI disorders, I’d like to offer you a way to approach finding some relief during this challenging time.
IBS AND STRESS
Stress is the body’s natural, normal response to everyday stressors. Trauma is the body’s natural, normal response to an extraordinarily stressful event, like what we are experiencing right now with Coronavirus. Stress and anxiety (anxiety being stress without a clear stressor) are exactly what bodies create in response to circumstances like those we all are facing right now. For someone with IBS, heightened stress for days on end without reprieve is highly likely to worsen your IBS symptoms.
Given that it could be many more weeks, perhaps even months, before we will feel safe leaving our homes, it’s not a good idea to just wait for this situation to improve and hope you’ll feel better when it’s over. A more constructive way of dealing with your worsening symptoms is to gently guide your body out of this heightened state of stress so as to relieve your IBS symptoms. You don’t have to just tolerate this stress, anxiety, and worsening of your IBS symptoms, and in fact, to do so will likely lead to further suffering.
Learning to reduce your stress now would not only help you to reduce your suffering due to Coronavirus, it would also help your body to come out of the layers of patterned stress responses that are likely generating, perpetuating, and exacerbating your IBS symptoms to begin with. In other words, Coronavirus is just one additional thing – a clear stressor – that your body is responding to in ways that your body likely responds to many other stressors in your life.
FINDING CALM IN THE MIDST OF COVID-19 ANXIETY
To shift into a greater state of ease and calm, there are many possible action steps you can take. If you already have self-care activities that are working to reduce stress, great! In this and coming blogs, I’d like to offer you something different from what’s already out there.
The basic premise of any stress-reduction approach is this: Your body will not willingly shift out of a state of heightened stress and anxiety until it believes that you are safe and free from harm. You need to help your brain and body get the memo that you are safe despite the fact that coronavirus is still out there in the world. With this in mind, one key strategy is to focus on feeling safe right now. Don’t delay gratification. Find ways to start believing that you are safe. This takes some cleverness and finesse on your part, along with a willingness to suspend fearful thinking about the what if’s and worries that get in the way of feeling safe right now. Learn to shift your focus away from what feels scary, threatening, or infuriating. Instead, focus on the ease that comes as you bring your attention to what feels safe to your brain and body.
In today’s blog, I would like to simply introduce you to this general approach so that you can start thinking of ways to get your own body into a greater state of ease and calm. What your body most needs right now is specific to the way your nervous system and body function. What’s right for you may not be the most effective approach for someone else. You know your body best.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll offer some ways to help your body make this shift into ease from a place of stress. The strategies I offer may or may not work effectively for you. All that means is your body may need something different than someone else’s. Please, keep tinkering until you find something that works effectively for you. While we can’t change certain realities, it is truly possible to find relief from your symptoms during trying times.
LEARN MORE ABOUT IBS SELF-CARE DURING QUARANTINE
Stay tuned for another blog about self-care strategies for IBS during the Coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, I hope you can put into action the overarching strategy I shared today: Shift your focus away from trying to address problems you can’t fix at this time. Instead, focus on feeling good right now in all the small, constructive ways you can. I say all of this with the belief that you already are doing everything you possibly can to protect yourself from contracting Coronavirus.
To learn more, visit the Don’t Hate Your Guts website where you can sign up to have weekly blog posts and the video of the week sent straight to your inbox. You’ll also receive updates about the exciting webinar series I’m about to launch. You can watch this week’s video just below on the Don’t Hate Your Guts YouTube Channel.
Healing is a process. You know the destination. I’ve got the roadmap.
Don’t hate your guts. Instead, discover how to heal your body.