I've had a lot of clients lately tell me they are frustrated....trying something that is meant to soothe their angry digestive tract and it seems to worsen things or finding even on a restricted diet their symptoms are driving them CRAZY. What is someone who lives with difficult digestive health to do?
Here's my top 3 Monday morning tips for how to get to increase your coping skills for dealing with difficult digestion
#1. And it's first on my list for a reason - it's important to know you are not alone.
It's easy to feel isolated when dealing with digestive health troubles as it may be something you are dealing with behind closed doors. After all, do you want to spend lunch hour at the office talking about the reason why you've stopped partaking in pizza day at the office? Perhaps not! If you've got a support network in your family and friends embrace it but even they might not truly understand what you are going though. Here's where support groups can be a big help. I've attended a Crohns & Colitis local chapter meeting and it was really wonderful to see a first time attendee share his story with the group and for someone in the group to relate having had a similar surgery and similar challenges post-op. As the meeting went on, I could feel this first time attendee as he felt supported in a way that he probably had not felt until connecting with this group. Not close to a support group? - social media can be a great option. I am a member of many social media support pages where I can see the questions and rants people post every day....and there are many. If you haven't already, consider joining a social media group that focuses on what you are going through - there are ones out there for inflammatory bowel disease, celiac, IBS, SIBO - you name it. While I caution that not all of the information you read is going to be 100% accurate or backed up with research (you'll have to use your judgement or ask your health care professional for clarification when needed), it can be helpful to feel like you are not alone and get a sense that there are people who understand the struggle.
#2. Know that works for the goose won't work for the gander.
Our digestive tracts are populated with different bacteria, respond differently to foods we eat, the toxins they come across etc. This isn't a bad thing and it makes us each unique. However, when trying to implement dietary changes for symptom improvement this can be frustrating for sure. For example, many IBS sufferers find herbal teas such as fennel tea are soothing and comforting even though others would avoid like the plague because they know fennel tea is high FODMAP and a major trigger for them. Here's where food & symptom journaling can be helpful to identify what YOUR triggers and safe foods are. It may take time to sort this out and certainly there is bound to be some error in the trial and error process but learning what works for YOUR body is a valuable tool.
#3. It's not all what you eat
It would be great if all symptoms could be traced back to something you did or didn't eat but we know digestive symptoms are more than just an outcome of the process of eating. There is research that looks at the link between anxiety, stress, fatigue, sleep - you name it and digestive health. Ever experienced a colitis flare right around a stressful period say exam time or as you prepare for maid of honour duties in your sister's wedding? It can happen. To get a handle on this one it can be helpful to come up with a pre-game routine. If the thought of coping at the family get-togethers this weekend for Easter has you on edge, what can you do now heading into the week to try and prepare yourself? It could mean carving out some time for you to unwind with a good book every night before bed, soak in a warm bubble bath in the morning to get your days started or to aim for two yoga classes between now and Friday - knowing how easy it is to only find time for 1 in the week but also knowing how much better you feel when you go more often. Getting to know what strategies keep your body and mind happy can help keep those flares at bay or can reduce the impact that stress has on you.
Coping with digestive health difficulties is no walk in the park and while you can feel like you are at the mercy of your angry digestive system, don't forget there are strategies to consider that may help build your coping skills leaving you feeling less alone, better understood and ready to take on life!