Why you need to stop worrying about your IBS bloat
You may have heard it before “ Just stop worrying about it!”. Whether it’s about your gut or something else people are constantly telling each other to stop worrying and everything will get better. But if only it was easy to stop worrying!
The second you try to stop worrying about bloat, you may find those worrying thoughts creeping into your mind. You might start to worry if other people can notice your bloat or even more- like a rebellious thought that just won’t go away.
Why worrying makes bloating worse
1. Visceral hypersensitivity- People with IBS have been shown to have heightened sensitivity to gut stimulation. This is likely due to a number of factors related to the nerves which supply the gut. These nerves become more sensitive both in the gut (peripheral sensitization) and at the level of the brain (central sensitization) as well as the possibility of stress modulating the gut-brain axis.
The gut-brain axis is often considered to be a second brain (find out more here!). It consists of two-way communication between your brain and the nerves in your gut- this means that emotions and thoughts are closely linked with your gut! This includes worrying thoughts, anxiety, and stress. This second brain is also influenced by the microbiome i.e. the rich ecosystem of micro-organisms that live in your gut.
2. Vicious cycle - Life stress can cause colon spasms and abdominal discomfort. Everyone has probably experienced “butterflies” when they feel nervous or excited. But people with IBS will experience a higher level of stress. Context is also important in IBS since worries related to your gut such as whether you’ll reach a bathroom in time can cause additional stress, especially if there has been a negative experience before. For example, if your bloat makes you feel lousy for an important occasion. Next time, a smaller amount of pain can lead you to catastrophize and then you get worse anxiety. That emotional state can then make the pain sensations heightened.
How to manage worry to calm IBS bloat
Avoiding worry can actually make worry worse. That’s why it is important to acknowledge the worry and accept it as part of your life. However, also learning ways to control and manage your worry is crucial.
One of the most important things to learn is why we get bloated. For the majority of people, although bloating can make you feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, or lousy- it is not linked to a serious illness and is not life-threatening. In fact, being a little bloated can be a sign of a healthy gut!
That’s because bloating is caused by four main processes: gas, water in your small intestine, constipation, and/ or fermentation products. All of these processes apart from constipation can be a normal part of digestion.
You can find out more about what causes bloating and how to get gas and bloating relief, check out the article Backed by doctors: quick fixes to beat bloating.
Manage your worry
Managing your worry is also crucial to tackling bloating since this helps break the vicious cycle and may tackle visceral hypersensitivity since a relaxed mind is connected to a relaxed gut via the gut-brain axis.
The best way to manage worries is by using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. These allow you to learn more about how your mind works and thinks. It also explores the links between our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Practical tips can be used such as behavioral experiments to help you tackle specific worries such as getting bloated on a first date, for example. And you can also use relaxation techniques to activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) system to promote gut relaxation. Zemedy included CBT specifically for IBS and includes a range of techniques to help you manage your worry about IBS bloat.
The bottom line…
Worrying about IBS bloat can actually make your body more sensitive to bloating and thus make things worse! Although, you cannot eliminate worry or stress from your life completely, by using a structured technique like CBT you can manage worry and break the vicious cycle which leads to more IBS bloat.