IBS and anxiety often go together. Many IBS sufferers deal with anxiety at one level or another. Why is this, and what may be going on behind the scenes with your IBS?
IBS and anxiety
When we have anxiety around daily life, our IBS generally takes a turn for the worse.
One cause of anxiety (that is often overlooked) is past trauma.
I often work with people who have an ongoing sense of unease in their lives. Or live in a hypervigilant state.
They don’t know why, or if they do, they do not know how to change that experience.
We often think of trauma as being a huge, dramatic event.
But you don’t have to have lived in a war zone to have experienced trauma.
I missed one of my biggest IBS triggers because it didn’t seem significant enough.
It is easy to overlook these difficult episodes that don’t seem “that bad”.
But they were significant to YOU. And that’s all that counts.
The thing with trauma is this. We often blank it out. Our clever minds protect us in this way.
We may have heard that we lived a certain event, but we can’t remember any details of it at all. There will be no real memories and therefore little emotion at all about it.
So what’s the problem? When you then live a related experience, the suppressed anxiety can be overwhelming.
If you have blanked out an event and have chronic IBS, it is worth considering that this might well be a trigger – and get help finding and releasing it.
Soft trauma is the label given to a situation we live over a period of time and that we, and our nervous system, react to. This may have been something we lived as a child and that was just part of “how it was” that we don’t even notice as being a trigger.
But when you run into whatever that is again, you just know that you don’t feel good. AND you probably have an IBS flare-up to follow.
Soft trauma can turn up in difficulties as an adult too. If you see patterns in your life around work and relationships, and feel bad or anxious around the same kind of situation, you have your finger on a trigger.
Some people experience debiliatating panic attacks. I go further into IBS and anxiety attacks here. Again, trauma is often to be found behind panc attacks.
Accidents and past surgery
I don’t often see accidents and past surgery (especially as a child) mentioned related to IBS and anxiety. However, in my own experience as well as in coaching IBS sufferers, I have discovered just how much accidents and past surgery often contain trauma.
Those times you had to grit your teeth and get through a bad situation? You probably don’t remember – but your body does!
I had an accident when I was 5. My parents told me that I loved jumping in the swimming pool. And one day my leg slipped and I somehow did the splits on the side of the pool. I was whisked away to emergency and had stiches along my private parts. I had blanked out everything – I just remember it being really painful to go to the toilet.
It was in the past, so it wasn’t a big deal for me – UNTIL I had children. I didn’t realise it (I had never experienced labour before) but I had extreme anxiety about what I felt strongly as gynaelogical interference. Yet it was just a medical team doing their best to help me during delivery. In the end I had to be strapped down and have a cesaerian – which just heightened my anxiety and IBS – and the pain response in my body.
I didn’t see the link – at all. I just noticed a lady on holiday with her baby, sitting by the pool. It seemed such a light, beautifully calm and natural experience – nothing like mine. And tears welled up.
Years later when going for a gynaelogical check-up I noticed how my hands and feet were tightly clenched. I knew how to release trauma (one of my NLP specialisations) and did that for myself. The difference I felt in myself was incredible.
Accidents and surgery as a child have the potential of leaving trauma behind.
Do you experience IBS and anxiety?
If anxiety and IBS are prominent in your life, you may sense that you are triggered – even if you’re not completely sure of what that is about.
You can try to push this aside and forget about it. But it will still be running in the background every day.
The best way I know of to break that pattern is to take all those IBS puzzle pieces, put them together to understand them – and then release them.
It’s not easy, but it works!2