Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) management can be accomplished with relaxation exercises and techniques. As stress and anxiety are known triggers to IBS flare-ups, controlling the syndrome can then be possible by reducing the stressors.
When we are stressed, our body reacts with a “fight-or-flight” response, releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Although this response was quite helpful for our ancestors when their life was in danger (like meeting a tiger), nowadays most of our stresses are not “life-or-death” situation. But what hasn’t changed, however, is our body’s response. So, even though we no longer need to run away from tigers, our body still prompts us to.
While researchers are aware of the role stress plays in IBS, it is still not fully understood. One thing is for certain, though: reducing stress as much as possible can be helpful in managing IBS symptoms.
Below you will find relaxation exercises and techniques to help you reduce stress and better manage your IBS symptoms.
Diaphragmatic/abdominal breathing: For this technique you will first need to locate your diaphragm. Place your hands above your belly button, just below your ribcage. This style of breathing allows you to breathe deeply into the diaphragm.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Pay attention to how the air feels entering your nose and being released through your mouth. Breathe in deeply and feel your diaphragm expand and grow larger. When you inhale, pause briefly before releasing the breath slowly feeling your diaphragm shrink again. It may help to count up to five on your inhale and count down on your exhale.
Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique focuses on releasing muscle tension. It combines abdominal breathing and relaxation. It can be lengthy – about 20 to 25 minutes – but it is well worth it for IBS relief.
Sitting or lying down, begin with three to four deep abdominal breaths. Start by tensing the muscles in the forehead and face causing tension, and then release. Continue down your body by tensing different muscles, starting from the head down to your toes, holding the tension and then releasing. Ensure while you are doing this you continue to focus on your breath to encourage deeper relaxation.
Visualization/positive imagery: In this technique, you create pleasant and peaceful images in your mind to promote calmness and relaxation. Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful area such as a forest, beach, or open field. Practice your deep breathing and start building on your imagery. What is around you? How does this setting make you feel? Add in rich colors for detail, imagine smells and textures, too.
You may also want to imagine freeing yourself from IBS symptoms. Identify your discomfort, breathe into that area, and release it.
Anytime you start feeling stressed or anxious, return to this scene to promote calmness.
Along with relaxation techniques, there are other options to promote better management of IBS symptoms. These include talk therapy, regular exercise, meditation, deep breathing, doing something you enjoy, being open about your IBS and talking about it with others, acupuncture, and massage.
Trying different techniques can help you find one that is the most successful in relieving your IBS symptoms. The ultimate goal is to reduce stress, so as long as you do so in a healthy manner, that’s all that matters.