Over the past few years, meditation has been hailed as a solution to health problems ranging from depression to fibromyalgia. As a result, you may be wondering if meditation can help with your irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The answer is that it might, especially if your IBS symptoms worsen due to stress. Below, we explain the link between IBS and stress and how meditation can help alleviate both of them. Then, we offer more tips for reducing your stress in general and suggestions for managing your symptoms with an IBS meal plan.
The Link Between IBS and Stress
Doctors and researchers are still trying to puzzle out the causes of IBS. However, there does seem to be a clear link between stress and gastrointestinal disorders, including IBS. Stress itself does not cause IBS, but it can worsen symptoms both temporarily and chronically. When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol, which triggers a fight-or-flight response and directs your body’s energy away from digestion and other less “urgent” processes. This can cause abdominal discomfort or pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea and other related symptoms.
When you’re stressed, you also tend to drink more caffeine and alcohol and eat processed foods higher in sugars and fats, all of which can lead to inflammation of the digestive tract and further contribute to IBS symptoms. Over time, chronic stress weakens your immune system, which can make your body more vulnerable to other conditions. This may be gastrointestinal in nature, such as stomach ulcers, or they may take other forms such as infectious diseases like the flu. Managing your stress can help keep you healthy and reduce the chances that you will develop stress-related conditions and/or worsen health conditions you may already have, such as IBS.
Using Meditation to Manage IBS
There are many different types of meditation and they can help manage IBS symptoms by helping you to mentally and physically relax and lowering your stress hormones. If you are new to meditation, you want to start by looking into mindfulness meditation, which is one of the most popular and therefore most accessible forms of meditation. Apps such as Mindful will walk you through guided meditations of all different kinds and lengths. People suffering from IBS may find body scan meditations as well as mindful eating practices to be especially beneficial.
Start by meditating for a short amount of time each day, around five to 10 minutes, and then increase the time as you are able to stay focused. If you need to ease into it, you can start by meditating three days a week and then working up to every day. Rather than seeing meditation as another chore you must complete, try to turn it into a rewarding experience. You can burn candles in a pleasing scent, put on some of your favorite chants or change into comfy clothes for your meditation. You’ll start looking forward to it before you know it.
Other Ways to Lower Your Stress
Meditation isn’t the only way to lower your stress and address your tummy troubles. Here are some other tips to lower your stress levels:
- Get outside of your house and spend some time in nature. Walking and hiking are easy, low-impact activities to do outside.
- Exercise regularly, at least three times a week. This will encourage the release of stress-reducing hormones.
- Spend time with friends and family who make you feel better (not the people who stress you out). In-person is better, but virtual is also good!
- Take time for yourself outside of work and family obligations. Try to spend it on replenishing activities and not more chores.
- Pursue hobbies purely for enjoyment, not because you’re trying to master them or make money from them.
- Reduce your caffeine intake. Caffeine increases your body’s production of cortisol, which contributes to the physical stress response.
- Laughter relaxes you both physically and mentally, so put on your favorite comedy routines and get chuckling.
Other Ways to Address IBS
If you have IBS, simply meditating won’t be enough to manage your symptoms on their own. Because the symptoms have a physiological cause, they also need a physiological solution. For many people, identifying their IBS trigger foods and reducing or eliminating those foods from their diet goes a long way towards helping to reduce their symptoms. This is why most doctors recommend that people with IBS try a low-FODMAP diet for a minimum of eight weeks. This IBS meal plan removes a large selection of foods that are known to trigger IBS symptoms. The diet can also be helpful for those with IBD or other digestive disorders.
By removing potential trigger foods for several months, your body has time to recover and reduce inflammation. Once you start feeling better, you can start adding foods back in one at a time, tracking your progress and making notes on which items cause your symptoms to flare up again. In most cases, you will find only a small number of foods that you are personally sensitive to, and can continue eating the rest in moderation.
Because the initial list of high-FODMAP items to eliminate is so long, many people find it daunting to get started on a low-FODMAP diet, especially if they’re not used to meal planning and prepping. That’s where a low-FODMAP meal delivery service can come into play. These services deliver low-FODMAP compliant meals straight to your door, and all you have to do is reheat them and eat them. Going low-FODMAP is now even easier than learning to meditate!
Meditation can be an excellent addition to your toolbox of IBS management strategies, but it probably won’t cure all your symptoms on its own. Consider practicing meditation in conjunction with completing a low-FODMAP elimination diet and other stress reduction tips for a holistic approach. We hope this answered your questions about whether or not meditation can help with IBS!