IBS stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
As April is IBS Awareness Month in the UK, let’s look at how mindfulness and irritable bowel syndrome are linked.
There is no one specific cause of this distressing condition of the digestive system. However, if you suffer with it, or indeed, any chronic illness, managing your ability to relax can help ease everyday symptoms.
How are stress and IBS connected?
As your reflexes become heightened in a life-threatening moment your heart-beat increases its speed. This enhances your body’s ability to run, keep oxygenated and ensure your survival. And in that moment of fear, the body’s resources are diverted away from the stomach and digestion.
You might recognise that all these responses are the same kinds of responses you experience when you are feeling scared or anxious. They actually are the same responses – your brain’s Limbic System takes charge of this ‘Fight/Fight/Freeze’ or ‘stress response’.
Yet it can’t distinguish between a life-threatening experience and your brain in a state of ‘worry’.
The word ‘worry’ originates from the term ‘strangle’. So when you worry or are anxious over something, your body contracts and becomes tense as it responds to your imagined or perceived stress.
You are not making this experience up! You are really feeling fearful, anxious and scared about something. The brain steps in to help you out, eliciting the stress response.
And the more stressed you are feeling, the more your IBS symptoms, or other chronic illness symptoms, may well bother you. And vice versa, extreme stress can trigger your condition too.
Relaxed yet alert
They are quietly grazing, relaxed yet alert. Suddenly, a lion emerges from the bush and chases the herd of gazelle.
They immediately respond in the same way you or I would – the adrenaline kicks in. They are able to run for their lives with hearts beating fast and sweat pouring off their sleek coats.
The adrenaline will fall once we relax and this is where mindful awareness can encourage your body’s Para-sympathetic Nervous System.
This lets us return to a state of balance and calm as we breathe deeply and release tension.
So your awareness and capacity to do this is how mindfulness and irritable bowel syndrome are connected.
Mindfulness and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Most of you know from your own experience that when you feel nervous or anxious, you may lose your appetite or your stomach might feel leaden or knotted.
So if you are spending large portions of your day in a state of anxiety, your digestive system will be affected. If you can bring a mindful practice into your day it allows you to feel calm and peaceful, thus reducing stress symptoms.
In this way you are helping your body’s own in-built capacity to return to peace, calm and efficient health.
It’s a skill to learn how to remain relaxed. Through mindfulness meditation and exercises, you feel as though you are not completely at the mercy of your health condition.
Mindfulness and meditation can empower you so that you do have some positive resources within yourself that you are capable of implementing.
What is the relationship of stress to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Useful reference book: Full Catastrophe Living. How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Check out Place of Serenity for awareness, relaxation and wellbeing experiences.
Yvette Jane – Mindfulness & Meditation Guide
This blog post has been updated since first published in September 2015