Holiday Stress Aggravating Your IBS?

The holiday season is a joyful time, but the mental and physical stress of facing crowded malls, planning family festivities, and making the rounds at parties can make an already sensitive digestive system caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) act up. IBS causes a great deal of discomfort, including cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Although there is no known specific cause for IBS, some researchers think that stress, the feeling of being mentally or emotionally tense, angry or overwhelmed, can stimulate colon spasms in IBS sufferers.

If the approaching holidays have you feeling stressed-out, talk with your doctor about what the best stress-reduction methods are for you and be sure to follow your doctor's instructions regarding when and how much medication to take to alleviate symptoms. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse also suggests trying:

  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation. Sit in a comfortable position in a quiet environment and focus your attention on something specific, such as breathing in and out. Using guided imagery can also reduce stress. Try to incorporate as many of the five senses as possible. For example, imagine yourself lying on a beach, smelling the salt air, hearing the roar of the waves and feeling the warmth of the sun on your body.
  • Hypnotherapy. Research shows that hypnotherapy is an effective form of treatment for many IBS sufferers and can decrease anxiety and abdominal pain and reduce bouts of diarrhea and constipation.
  • Counseling and support. Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown promise in the treatment of IBS symptoms brought on by anxiety.
  • Regular exercise such as walking or yoga. Some research is showing that 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week, reduces the occurrence of constipation.
  • Getting adequate sleep. Stress is aggravated by a lack of sleep. Getting enough sleep-seven to nine hours a night-also helps the body heal.

Maintaining your normal diet, avoiding your food triggers, drinking six to eight glasses of plain water and eating several small meals a day instead of three big ones can also help prevent IBS flare-ups during the holidays. In general, try steering clear of:

  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Milk products, like cheese or ice cream
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeinated drinks, like coffee and some sodas
  • Carbonated drinks, like soda