How to tackle an IBS attack at work
It feels like your worst nightmare has come true. You are in the middle of an important meeting or even an important Zoom call and your bowel starts to wreak havoc. Just on the day you needed your gut to take a day off - it decides to betray you. The stress of your irritable bowel syndrome flare up now combines with the stress of your working day and you just want the ground to swallow you up.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You may think your gut is a traitor when this happens but in reality, important days at work probably make you feel stressed → IBS can be triggered by stress → that leads to that vicious cycle of causing you even more stress. Using the latest studies, we have a few ideas on how you tackle this flare up and prevent future ones! So, you can cope with IBS at work.
IBS survival kit for work flare-ups
1. Grab some immediate relief
To help you break the cycle, you quite literally need a breather. If it is possible to take a minute break at some point then take this opportunity to do a relaxation exercise. If you are particularly rushed for time, some breathing exercises may be the easiest since these can be done just about anywhere! We have a range of tools in Zemedy to allow you to get that breather - as well as breathing exercises that activate the diaphragm. In fact, there is a range of tools you can use when you are having a flare from progressive muscle relaxation to guided visualisations.
2. Try to continue your day as normal
It can be so tempting to try and avoid everything when you have a flare-up and that’s totally understandable because you don’t want to face anyone or risk an embarrassing moment but continual avoidance can make things worse. It causes a hypersensitivity cycle where the more you avoid, the more anxious you become about certain events when they are unavoidable. If you already are avoiding certain things at work due to fear then you may want to try some behavioural experiments in order to conquer these situations with more confidence.
3. Tell the right person
While it is important to try and continue your day as normal - ignoring the problem isn’t going to help. But we all know that talking to someone about IBS can be hard and that’s because talking about poop and bowel issues can be stigmatising and embarrassing. It’s really tempting to keep everything to yourself. Yet, telling the right person can make a huge difference. Not only can they offer you emotional support they may be able to make work more manageable for you.
Remember that IBS is nothing to be ashamed of and it is a health problem. Everyone deserves to work no matter what illness or disability they have - and IBS can be disabling.
IBS which is disabling is covered by employment law in the Equality Act 2010. This means your employer has a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to help you work. In this scenario, your employer may ask for medical information from you. That’s why you may find it useful to speak to your Human Resources department or your supervisor about how they can support you. Even if it means that they know you need to go to the bathroom more often is something to be expected - or if you need extra time to complete tasks some days. Just having a work pal to share what you’re going through can make things a lot easier too. If there really seems to be no one at work you can talk to the remember that the Zemedy community is here to support you with everything!
4. Do not skip meals
Skipping meals may seem inevitable when you are in a pressured work situation or when food seems to trigger your symptoms. But food is fuel and your body needs regular intakes of food to survive and that’s why rather than skipping meals - you need to include some nourishing meals and snacks as part of your IBS work survival kit. Try eating some fibre-rich foods and include lots of veg to provide prebiotics for your gut. Some soothing kefir or kombucha drinks may also be a great addition to your arsenal of favourite IBS tackling foods.
5. Sip some tea
Most workplaces are no stranger to a cuppa to fuel the working day. Whether it’s reaching for a latte or some tea - most people add some caffeine before getting to work. But if you’re working with IBS and having a flare-up, the added dose of caffeine may cause you to feel anxious and jittery and make your bowels go into overdrive. However, there is a scientifically-backed elixir you could try instead: peppermint tea. Sipping on this could help your bowel to settle down so you can get back to work!
6. Preparation is key
To truly calm your irritable bowel syndrome, you’re going to need a plan! Learning about your IBS triggers is important. This means tracking what you eat, how much you sleep and your anxiety levels and seeing if there are patterns with your IBS. The Zemedy app has a handy tracker to help you stay ahead of your IBS.
Having a handy area at work filled with flare-up supplies is another good idea, whether it is a drawer or locker filled with medicines, peppermint tea bags or a stress ball to help you stay calm. You could also have an IBS dedicated area on your smartphone where you have calming playlists and apps like Zemedy which can help you beat a flare-up early! Making sure you are managing your IBS well every day also limits flare-ups. To achieve this it is important to have a routine. Visit our IBS gut health morning routine and IBS evening routine blogs for more information.
This survival kit should help you keep IBS flare-ups at bay and you can reclaim your working life and take on the challenges that suit you. By preparing, open discussion and using immediate relief, you have more time to do the things that matter to you.