It may be that wheat or lactose are part of the problem, or that certain foods such as nuts and seeds need to be avoided. It may be that fatty foods are a trigger for stomach cramps and diarrhoea/constipation.
What we do know is that it is in part triggered by stress and anxiety.
Stress & Irritable Bowel Syndrome
For instance, have you ever had diarrhoea due to feeling nervous before a job interview, a big exam, or a concert performance? Has it become problematic to the point where you feel it is safer to be at home than risk going out to a restaurant only to find yourself feeling ill while trying to socialise with friends and family?
You may be surprised to know that approximately 1 in 5 people experience an irritable bowel condition of one kind or another (1).
In some cases, an intolerance to certain foods or sugars, such as wheat, lactose, or fructose, is identified either through fasting and testing certain food groups, or through pathology testing for allergic responses.
With the removal or limitation of intake of the poorly tolerated foods, symptoms are relieved and no damage is done.
It may be that after some months, the poorly tolerated foods can be reintroduced without issue. However, there are the not-so-lucky few who have a more severe condition such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease, in which case certain foodstuffs such as gluten must be avoided because they cause damage to the lining of the intestines, and can lead to a range of debilitating symptoms. To check for these, your doctor may recommend you see a gastroenterologist and have a colonoscopy so that the lining of your intestines can be examined and biopsies taken.
If you can identify with any of the above, please be encouraged. More and more is becoming known about how the digestive system works, and how mental stress and physical symptoms can be related. Working with a dietitian or nutritionist to trial food types can take time but can certainly be worth the investment.
It is important to note that these conditions can come with a number of psychological stresses:
- Decreased social activity and avoidance of public places;
- Lowered confidence;
- Increased tendency to feel tired;
- Feeling frustration with one’s own body not being “normal”;
- Feeling anxious or nervous because the symptoms can seem unpredictable or uncontrollable;
- Feeling embarrassed about unwanted bodily symptoms like flatulence or the urgency to go to the toilet;
- Wanting to make wise decisions with food choices without drawing unwanted attention or questions from others.
How a Psychologist Can Help
Working with a psychologist can include building strategies to help with physical relaxation, lowered anxiety, and stress management.
Together, you can look at ways to manage social situations and reduce feelings of embarrassment or frustration. The more you understand how your own unique body works, and what situations or foods it tends to react to, the more you are in a position to make decisions that work for you and move you closer to the lifestyle you desire.
Author: Naomi Griffin, BA (Psych & Music); Grad Dip in Pastoral Couns; PG Dip Psych; Grad Cert Case Management; Grad Cert Ed Studies (Career Development); STAP; MAPS; MCCoun.
Please Note: Naomi is not currently practising at Vision Psychology, but is continuing to provide supervision for provisional (including 4+2 and 5+1) and registered psychologists, and for ministry agents in the wider Christian community. If you would like information regarding supervision, or want to book an appointment with a Christian psychologist, please contact Reception on 1800 877 924.
- “IBS: Free at Last!” by Patsy Catsos, 2008: Pond Covan Press.