Living with irritable bowel syndrome is always challenging, but when you add the additional stresses, activities and foods of the holiday season, it can quickly become overwhelming. Here are a few survival tips that can minimize your digestive distress and help you truly enjoy your holidays.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to plan ahead. A little advance planning can help reduce your stress, ease your symptoms and prevent an embarrassing accident.
Whether you’re traveling, shopping or attending a social gathering, it’s important to always know where the nearest restroom is. If you go to someone’s home, ask where the restroom is shortly after arriving; if you’re traveling by car, check out smartphone apps that show you where you can find clean restrooms along your route. If you’re traveling by plane, choose an aisle seat so you’ll be able to get to the restroom quickly without having to climb over other passengers.
If you have IBS with diarrhea, you might want to think about wearing protective undergarments when you go out just in case you’re not able to get to a bathroom quickly enough. And be sure to bring extras with you. A large purse or backpack should allow you to discretely carry a change of underwear and/or clothes with you.
Choose Foods Wisely
Another area where planning ahead can make a big difference is food. While you might be inclined to avoid eating all day prior to a social event thinking that will prevent IBS symptoms, that strategy can backfire on you. Your body may overreact when you do finally start eating; also, you’ll be more apt to overeat because you’re so hungry. The best course of action is usually to eat small meals throughout the day and while you’re at your social gathering.
Avoid foods you know will trigger your IBS symptoms. If you’ve had IBS for very long, you probably already know which foods ill kick your IBS into high gear. Some foods that can typically be triggers for people with IBS include: dairy, wheat/gluten, beans, legumes, sugars, artificial sweeteners, caffeine and carbonated beverages.
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If you’re going to a social gathering where you’re not sure if there will be any foods you can safely eat, bring some IBS-friendly foods with you. You might even consider asking the host if you can bring one or two tummy-friendly dishes to share with everyone.
For your digestive system to function properly, it’s important to stay hydrated so be sure to drink lots of water. Herbal teas are also a good option. Peppermint tea and ginger tea are both known to have soothing effects on the digestive system.
It’s well known that IBS symptoms can be exacerbated by stress. As much fun as the holidays can be, the additional pressures and commitments that are a normal part of the holiday season can significantly increase your stress levels.
Practicing relaxation exercises every day is always important, but even more so as holiday stresses increase. There are many effective relaxation methods to choose from, including: yoga, deep-breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. Numerous free YouTube videos are available demonstrating every type of relaxation exercise you can imagine, so check them out and find a few that appeal to you. Ideally, practice your relaxation techniques in a quite place at least twice a day.
For additional holiday de-stressing tips, be sure to read Sue Ingebretson’s excellent article “7 Seasonal Stress Strategies.”
Wishing you a happy, IBS-free holiday season!
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief, as well as being the Editor of both the IBS and Weight Loss HealthWatch newsletters. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth.