The symptoms of an Irritable Bowel Syndrome attack can be irritating at best and downright debilitating at worst. Here’s a few simple tips for easing the pain.
An IBS attack (of the D or the C varieties) can be inconvenient at best, and devastatingly painful and disruptive at worst. Here are a few of our tried and tested self-care ways to get through a flare.
1. Sleep – and if you can’t sleep, listen to an audiobook
Sleep… the best way we’ve found, at the end of the day, to get through a glutening or and Irritable Bowel Syndrome flare. Sometimes sleep isn’t forthcoming though, because you’re probably lying in bed nauseated to the hilt, and trying to understand if your body wants to vomit or let forth rivers or diarrhea or what. And when that’s happening, your brain is trying not to fixate on these feelings, because it makes it 1000x worse when your gut pain is all you can think about. Friends, our answer: audiobooks. Preferably something lighthearted, without any tension whatsoever, and a good dose of humour if possible. We have two or three books we turn to at times like these, readers with calming voices and long books to narrate, that we can slowly fall asleep to.
If audio books are just a bit much for you to handle (we’ve also been there), then a white noise app like Noisli can really help soothe your path to sleep.
2. Get your hug cushion* ready
Bit of an odd one, but bear with us. Similar to the audiobooks-for-sleep tip, we find having a soft hug cushion that you can ‘rest’ your sore stomach against can help your muscles to relax, and ease the path to sleep. During an IBS flare your stomach muscles may feel cramped and tender - lying on your side and using a cushion to bolster can help the cramping muscles to relax.
*Could also be an old stuffed animal, we totally won’t tell anyone.
3. Use a hot water bottle or heating pad
Heat soothes the irritable gut like nobody’s business. Make sure to wrap your hot water bottle in a towel or blanket so that you don’t burn your skin.
4. Meditate (or get your gentle yoga on)
An IBS attack, or a glutening, is made worse by the triggering of that pesky ‘flight or fight’ response. Full-body breathing and learning how to cope with attendant anxiety can help aid your recovery by decreasing that physiological panic response. There are plenty of guided meditation apps around, but we found Headspace particularly helpful for both understanding our body’s reaction to anxious thoughts and learning how to ease the anxiety feedback loop (we’ve heard the Calm app is also good!).
If you’re up to it, a little gentle yoga can help release gas (especially gentle supine twists) and related pain and give your mind something else to focus on for the duration of your exercise.
5. Keep sipping water
Big gulps could aggravate your symptoms, but make sure to slowly keep sipping water to help clear your digestive system. If you’re having trouble with cold water, try a boiled water instead. Why does hot water help ease a sore stomach? The warmth helps your abdominal muscles relax, and apparently stimulates our stomachs less than cold water.
6. Learn your triggers
This one isn’t a quick fix, and unfortunately it’s unlikely you’ll feel 100% better overnight, or in a week, or even in a month. But if you don’t know what your triggers are – be they stress, eating at the wrong times, eating the wrong things, eating too much of something that is fine in small quantities, or a combination of all of the above – you won’t start to feel human again. That’s why our daily spreads contain a holistic overview of your day-to-day health: sleep, exercise, stress, mood, medicine intake, food, drinks and symptoms. If you can understand how these things interplay in your own daily life, you can take control of your triggers and build a diet and lifestyle that helps you heal and enjoy life again.
7. Eat little and as often as you can manage
When you’re in the middle of an attack/glutening try to avoid: fatty foods, dairy and nut butters. Stick to bland foods in the beginning (mashed potato with a little mint sauce helps us, or rice cooked in stock) plus sip flat soda (ginger ale is a particular favourite) and warm peppermint tea. Adding fermented foods can also help – kombucha, sauerkraut or kefir being amongst the easiest to find, and don't try to rush back to your 'normal' diet if you're still feeling a bit off.
8. Medicate if helpful
Over the counter remedies include activated charcoal for helping the offending food move through your digestive tract quicker, Imodium for diarrhea, Buscopan for cramps, Pepto-bismol for an upset stomach, Senokot/Senocalm for constipation and Peppermint oil capsules for bloating and pain. Probiotics can be helpful for getting you back on track (but aren’t amongst the more instant remedies for symptoms).
Always make sure to check with your doctor or a pharmacist before trying a new medicine.
9. Take baths
Again with the heat: soaking in the tub will help relax those tense muscles. If you’re having a skin reaction that’s rashy and itchy, an Oilatum bath can really help.
10. Give yourself permission
…to do absolutely nothing if you can. We know it’s not always possible – people have lives and families and obligations. But if you can, carve out even just an hour to lie down and let your body recover. If you’re light on the familial or work responsibilities, let your people know that you’ll be hibernating for a while, gather your armoury around you, and let the healing commence.
Remember, always seek out a medical professional if your symptoms persist/you cannot ease a flare. We're not doctors and we always advocate for checking in with those who are! These tips are things that have helped us heal from glutenings or IBS attacks in the past.