Living with IBS: 5 ways to get your life back

living with IBS

Let’s face it: living with IBS isn’t easy. But it’s possible. And it doesn’t have to ruin your life.

I often get requests from readers who suffer from IBS, just like I do. And most of the time, they’re just looking for anything that might help them cope with the illness.

While I have written several articles on how to deal with IBS in specific aspects of your life (all of which will be linked at the end), I wanted to make this post more of a general guideline. Below, you will find 5 tips that I used in my life. And they’re the ones that helped me the most.

Within a year, my life transformed from a blur of misery centred around IBS into a more or less normal life, that’s only sometimes punctuated by the annoyances of the condition.

Create a daily routine that does not make you anxious

I got IBS when I was working at a corporate job. Every day at 9 am, I had to be at the office, and I wasn’t able to leave until 6 pm. And let me tell you, it was hell on earth.

Every morning, I got this massive flare-up that wouldn’t stop until around 11 am. I can’t even count how many Imodiums I took – although they didn’t even help that much.

I got really bad anxiety (something I’ve never had before) which seemed to only get worse. My hour-long commute to work with no access to bathrooms didn’t help!

And I was always, always scared of leaving the house. Living with IBS seemed impossible at that time.

Fast forward 3 years, and I live in a small town that has no public transport. (Which still remains a trigger for my anxiety.) I work from home as a freelancer and actually make a better living than I used to.

Now, I still have IBS flare-ups in the mornings, but I don’t care as much because I’m at home. I only ever worry about the illness when my routine gets interrupted. And thankfully, that’s not all that often.

Now, I know that this might not seem like a change you can make. But it is. 

Whether you’re in the same situation or a completely different one: the crucial thing is to create a daily routine that does not make you anxious. One that your IBS is comfortable with, too.

So, think about the aspects of your life that you don’t feel up to due to your IBS. Then, think about how you can change them. It might not be easy (for me, it was SO hard and it took over a year to do), but it’s possible.

Simplify your meals

Besides anxiety, food is definitely the major IBS trigger. If you’ve done any research on the internet at all, you have probably heard about the Low FODMAP diet. 

But cutting out trigger foods isn’t always enough. For me, it’s important to make sure that the meals I eat follow a few simple guidelines that make them safe for me to eat.

First of all, I suggest limiting the number of different foods you eat in one sitting. That means avoiding 3-course meals as well as too many ingredients. When in doubt, I always opt for rice with chicken or salmon – by far the safest food for me.

Another tip is to avoid sauces since these tend to be major triggers. If you’re struggling with IBS-D like I do, try just using salt and pepper instead.

And lastly, don’t overdo it with the vegetables. I know it’s healthy. But there’s no point in eating healthy when you’re going to sit in the bathroom for hours afterwards.

Just think about the foods you would eat after a stomach flu. Those are the ones you want to feed your super sensitive gut – at least most of the time.

I know that this is not a fun part of living with IBS – especially if you love food. But trust me, it’s worth not having flare-ups all the time.

Focus on important people first

IBS can make you feel so isolated. I’ve lost friends because they didn’t understand what was going on. Which, to be honest, is not their fault because I never even explained.

Other friends stuck by me, but I’m not as close with them anymore. It’s not that easy to maintain close friendships when you have to say no to so many activities. Brunching, sleeping over somewhere, travelling together…

In order to make sure that you don’t alienate the people that are truly important to you, I suggest prioritising. First, invest time to explain your illness to your family, your significant other, your best friend…

Whenever you feel up to it, spend time with them. Even if that means cancelling on your colleagues or other, less important people.

If you’re like me and you’re not comfortable talking about your bowel movements or experiencing flare-ups around people, chances are that living with IBS will make you a little less social. 

But that okay – you don’t need 50 acquaintances that you see 3 times a year. As long as you focus on maintaining a close relationship with the really important people!

Become more assertive

In my natural state, I’m probably the least assertive person in the world. I always try to accommodate others, will never give my opinion if I’m not asked, and take things people say to heart way too much.

I’m an introvert with the remains of the social anxiety I’ve combatted for years – what do you expect?

But since I got IBS, I had to learn the hard way to become far more assertive. Simply because I physically can’t adapt to others as much anymore.

I have to be the one who decides when and where I can meet with people. (Not in the morning and somewhere close to a bathroom – just in case.)

I need to make decisions about food, and closely monitor if someone else is cooking.

And finally, I can’t care if others tell me that I’m exaggerating. After all, they’re not me, so how the heck would they know?

As weird as it is, IBS has really taught me how to stand up for myself. Be less of a push-over. And it works!

If you’re struggling with similar issues, work on being more assertive. It’s okay to be a little selfish. And it’s okay to clearly say what you want, and what you don’t want.

Being more assertive will make living with IBS so much easier. You’ll be much less likely to end up in situations that don’t work for you!

Realise that living with IBS doesn’t have to ruin your life

When I first got IBS, I certainly thought that my life was over. Living with IBS seemed impossible. I couldn’t even leave my house without being on the verge of a panic attack!

If you feel that way now, please believe me when I say that it will get better.

Once you’ve sorted out your food, work, and living situation, you’ll find yourself just as happy as you were before.

The key to living with IBS is to realise that you can’t just ignore the illness. If you had a heart condition, you would probably avoid doing certain jobs and activities. And it’s the same with IBS.

Don’t just go on thinking that you have to keep going exactly as before. That you’ll just have to deal with it. Because you don’t.

Just like everyone has the right to find a life that makes them happy, you have the right to create a life that works for your IBS. Even if that means changing basically everything about your life (like I did).

Again, I’m not saying that it’s easy. But once you convince yourself that you deserve to find a way to live (not just survive) with IBS, you’ll start making changes. And before you know it, IBS will stop controlling your life.

More on living with IBS

Living with IBS: 5 ways to get your life back

Did you find this post helpful? Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. And don’t hesitate to share your own tips with other IBS sufferers!

2 Replies to “Living with IBS: 5 ways to get your life back”

  1. I had a successful business in construction, until the economy took me out of the game. I never had a college education, so it was not easy to find a job, so I decided after filing for bankruptcy, I would need to return to school, and get some type of degree. I have been completing prerequisites for the nursing program at the community college in my home town. I decided to become a nurse, because I want to be able to help others. I do have times when I feel like giving up, because each time I have to give myself another enema, it is a constant reminder of my dilemma. I keep pushing forward, and hope to be a successful nurse in the new future. I will not give up, and I do hope that someone is able to find a way to help all of us who suffer have normal lives. I do appreciate all the people who have shared their personal stories, and know that maybe I am not as good at expressing myself as others, but I do hope that someone will benefit from reading my story, as I have benefited from reading your stories. Hi, I am 59 years old and I have been fighting with IBS for 10 years now. I went through every test a doctor can give you, and with all their questions answered they told me I had IBS, there s no cure. I have a very hard time keeping it under control. Whether I eat or I don t eat, the symptoms just tear me apart. I can t go out, I don t have much of a life. My symptoms are diarrhea, constipation, terrible pain, bloating, stomach pain, hot flashes. They are very bad. I find my breath smells too and when I am having an attack I hate to talk to anyone. It definitely makes your life a living hell, sometimes I wish I did have a disease they could help me with. I go to doctors, and do as they ask, come home with prescriptions and pain medication. I find my pain meds help calm everything down so I ask for them. I hate being in pain. Thanks for reading my story.

    1. Hi Alberte, thank you for sharing your story. It’s amazing that you keep pushing forward despite everything because you want to help others!
      I get what you say about having been through every test and always coming home with medication that doesn’t really help. I’ve been there. The only thing that helped me was changing my diet (I went through the whole FODMAP process and it truly helped) and finding a lifestyle that reduces anxiety to the minimum. For me personally, medication doesn’t work, but probiotics do a little bit. I do hope as well that one day they’ll come out with a cure for IBS.

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