The holidays can be really fun, but they can also be a major stressor. For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the food and travel associated with the season may intensify symptoms.
Stress can affect the gut and impact how people with IBS feel. Travelling to see family, spending time with certain family members, and worrying if they will respect and acknowledge the condition can all make it a tough time.
People living with IBS report that the holidays can be particularly stressful, often above and beyond what most people without the condition report.
About 15 percent of Americans have IBS.
Stress can directly impact IBS through the gut-brain axis. Stressful situations or thoughts can amplify pain and alter the mobility of the gut by either speeding it up or slowing it down while changing the composition of the gut microbiome.
Symptoms can become more severe, leading to frequent trips to the bathroom or fewer. It may also mean more stomach pain and cramping, bloating, or increased urgency to get to the bathroom.
The holidays can create added stress due to travel, food options, and whether or not family members understand and support the condition. Further, people with IBS may feel too worried to ask for changes to the menu that would make things easier for them. Therefore, rather than talking about it, the person with IBS may eat foods that exacerbate symptoms.
So what can you do?
If you are stressed about travel, try practicing relaxation techniques before getting in the car or on the plane. Take a look at the physical cues your body may be presenting – tight shoulders, clenched jaw, the tension in the chest – and take five minutes to relax.
A meditation app, deep breathing, or imagining a relaxing place may all help.
Try paying attention to catastrophic thinking patterns as well. Focus on what you can control. Be prepared for the potential of a family member not reacting well to your requests about menu changes, and think of a solution. A plan – like sticking to certain foods or bringing something – can help relieve stress.