17 Easy Things You Can do Today: Improve Your IBS and Lower Stress
During my teenage years (and early twenties), I struggled daily with my Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms. I remember coming home from school/work and just spending hours on the toilet feeling miserable. Personally, I don’t ever want to go back to that time. But I see clients in my dietitian practice every day who are still dealing with this. So today I’d like to share 17 easy things you can do today to improve your IBS and lower stress! Even the small things matter when you have an irritable bowel!
Easy Things You Can Do to Improve Your IBS and Lower Stress
When dealing with IBS, there is a whole lot you can try to improve your symptoms. An irritable bowel can flare up (or a flare-up can be prevented) as a result of many circumstances. It can be food, stress, lifestyle, eating habits, physical activity, sleep, breathing, and so on. The thing that works for you might not work for the next person with IBS, and this makes it very personal.
A personalized approach is always favourable for IBS, and I would strongly recommend seeking out help from a specialized dietitian (like me!) or therapist to find your ideal solutions. Following advice from friends, family or social media can be helpful in some cases, but it will often leave you feeling more confused than helped.
That being said, there are some easy-to-try things that help you to connect with your body and can give you the opportunity to figure out what feels good and what doesn’t. This list of 17 easy things you can do to improve your IBS and lower stress is not based on food choices, but more based on habits. Give it a try, and see how you feel!
1. More Family Time
Spending time with loved ones can give you the opportunity to unwind, and maybe even helps you open up your heart about any concerns you have. Spending time with people we like/love will reduce stress levels and get the tension out of our body.
2. Cook Your Own Meals
Cooking your own meals makes it a whole lot easier to enjoy your meals without worries. If you know your food triggers for your IBS, it can be stressful to eat out. Not knowing if your triggers are in the food can cause tension, which can be a trigger on its own. So try to cook your own meals as much as possible to ensure a calm belly throughout the week. I personally love to make bigger portions and freeze them for a busy day.
Need some meal inspiration? Click here for my recipes.
3. Get Your Heart Rate Up Daily
Get that heart pumping! Not only will physical activity reduce stress in the body, but the movement of the body will also help your digestive tract to move along. This can reduce constipation and bloating (although you might let a little fart out along the way… whatever’s out will not bother you anymore). Aim for a daily 30 minutes of activity to reap the benefits.
4. Try Journalling
It might not sound too exciting, but journalling can be a great way to let go of worries or stress. If you don’t have anyone to talk to (or don’t want to talk to anyone) your head can get stuck in a loop. Any worries in your head can affect your intestines through the gut-brain-axis. And this can lead to bloating or constipation. So try and write all your worries away!
5. Daily Downtime From Electronics
Nowadays we’re spending waaaaaaay too much time on our electronic devices and waaaaaay too little time outside and being active. Electronics (and especially our smart devices like our phones and smartwatch) have a tendency to distract us and steal our time. Try to take at least 30 minutes a day to stay away from your phone and electronic devices, these 30 minutes are even better when put before we go to bed. Not only will you feel calmer, you will also sleep better.
6. Drink 2 Litres of Water a Day
We all know we should drink enough, but in the end, very few people do! Water is necessary for many of our bodily functions, but it can also keep our stools moist and easy to pass. Studies have shown that drinking enough water will not necessarily fix any digestive issues, but drinking too little will make you more prone to constipation. So try to aim for those 2 litres!
7. Get Some Sun on Your Face Every Day
Sunlight on our skin leads to the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for our immune function, bone health and muscle function. A deficiency of vitamin D has been linked to more frequent flare-ups of IBS and IBD (Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis). So try to get outside daily, for at least 15 minutes. Your body (and gut) will thank you.
8. Listen to your body (and take a break sometimes)
This might be one of the more difficult ones for a lot of people. Since nowadays we are always running to do something, and saying you’re busy is seen as a sign of success. In my personal opinion, it is not. Being busy can be a good thing, but it isn’t when you’re forgetting about your own needs. Your body has ways to tell you when it’s been too much, so try to listen to it. Sometimes skipping a workout because you’ve had a rough day and just want to sit on the couch with a cuppa can be even better for you than working out. Try to listen and tune in with your body. Take a break when you need to.
9. Take a Moment to Play
For a lot of people, being an adult means you should not play (or at least not without your kids or cousins). This means that a lot of joy is being missed out! Remember that time you played tag/footbal with your cousins in the park? How much fun that was and how good you felt?
Try to play, even as an adult. In the beginning, you might feel uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the more fun you have. When you’re having fun, you’ll be relaxed and your intestines will be relaxed too.
10. Sing Along
Singing and humming help you relax. When you sing or hum, the vagus nerve will activate and this automatically leads to relaxation. So especially when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, just sing along to the radio or make something up to be humming. Lower stress levels equal better digestion.
11. Give Yourself a Compliment Every Day
Compliments make us happy! And many people will be inclined to compliment a friend or even a stranger on something good they do (or nice they wear). But when it comes to ourselves, hardly anything will ever be good enough. Try to look at yourself like a stranger or your best friend would and give yourself a compliment! I’m certain that you’re doing things right, and you deserve it.
12. Start Recycling and Being Kind to the World
This will not only make you feel better but will also help to get our lovely earth healthier! Every time you clear out a piece of trash from the street, recycle plastic or bring your own bag to the store you will know you are putting in the work to help the earth in the big picture! For me, this gives me a little spark of joy every time.
13. Eat 2 Types of Fruit and 300 Grams of Vegetables Every Day
One of the few diet-based tips in this list is about fruit and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables contain a lot of fibre. And fibre is the source of energy for our gut bacteria. From fibre, our gut bacteria produce butyrate, which fuels our intestinal cells and keeps our intestinal lining healthy. By amping up our fibre intake (and preferably many different types of fibre, variety is key!), we make sure our gut bacteria have all the energy they need to keep our gut happy. A happy gut leads to fewer flare-ups.
14. Chew Meals Till Applesauce Consistency
Chewing is important (as you can read in the blog I wrote about that). Chewing prepares our food for digestion and the smaller the food has been chewed the easier it is to digest it. Foods that are completely digested will result in less bloating. Any undigested particles in the large intestine can lead to bloating because the gut bacteria will start to ferment it and create gas in the process.
15. Get At Least 7 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Sleep is linked to the diversity of the bacteria in your gut. Studies have shown that 2 consecutive days of less than 6 hours of sleep already lead to a reduction in the diversity of our gut microbiome. A diverse microbiome is a healthy microbiome. So don’t watch that last episode of that show, and go to bed on time.
16. Have 1 Portion of Nuts or Seeds Every Day
Again, fibre! The more diverse our food pattern is (specifically when it comes to fibre) the healthier our microbiome is! So add that little portion of nuts to add variety!
17. Aim for a Regular Eating Pattern
Your body likes regularity. We have a day and night rhythm, will generally get hungry around the same time of day and have a menstrual cycle (if you have a womb). If you’re lucky you might even have a set moment of the day when you can poop. Aim for a regular pattern with preferably 3-6 (small)meals a day.
A regular food pattern will prevent you from overeating (which can cause symptoms), will keep your digestive tract moving and will make the chances of a regular stool be bigger.
What are your best tips to reduce stress and IBS? Let me know in a comment below!
Hi there, I’m Manon.
In my daily life I work as a registered dietitian in the Netherlands with a special interest in gut health.
During my workday I get loads of questions about healthy food, recipes and lifestyle to make it a little easier to get healthy. On Positive Gut I collect my best recommendations, tips and recipes to make your healthy lifestyle a little easier!