How to cope with IBS at work

IBS can interfere with your work life. Here's what you can do.
IBS can interfere with your work life. Here's what you can do.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms can be severe. In fact, a recent study has shown that one's overall quality of life can be significantly affected by the symptoms of IBS, especially if diarrhoea is the main symptom.

Coping with the unpredictable, painful symptoms of IBS can be tricky and can affect your concentration and energy levels. Not only does it make you less productive, but it can also limit you to career opportunities and what jobs you can do. 

Your social situation at work can also be affected. 

Making things bearable

In an article, an IBS sufferer gives her account of life at work:

"My symptoms are always worse in the morning, so I’m often late for work. Early morning meetings or responsibilities are just out of the question. The night before a day of teaching, or something important for work, I’m really strict with what I’m eating to control symptoms, as much as someone actually can."

The unpredictable nature of IBS may mean that you never know when symptoms may flare up. This puts pressure on you in a work environment where you might be under extreme pressure, have to attend long meetings and presentations, or are not around toilet facilities.

Stress also has an effect on the triggering of symptoms. However, given the daily pressures of the work environment, stress is unavoidable. Here are some tips on how to make work bearable when you suffer from IBS:

1. Don’t suffer in silence

IBS may be very embarrassing to talk about, but as with any other medical condition, it’s important to disclose your IBS to a trusted colleague, your line or HR manager. A colleague who knows what’s going on can also fill in for you when you simply can’t attend a meeting.

Woman talking to her boss at work

2. Stick to a schedule

While a hefty workload can sometimes not be negotiated, you can manage stress at work by creating a schedule and staying on top of your work. By sticking to a schedule, you can train your body to reduce the number of trips to the bathroom. Planning your meals can also give you control over when your symptoms might flare up. Plan your meetings well in advance and make sure you know where the nearest bathroom is, should you have a meeting at a different location.

Schedule on laptop

3. Avoid trigger foods

Some symptoms might be triggered by certain foods. Keep control by packing your own lunches and planning your meals ahead of time. If you can’t avoid business lunches, plan ahead by knowing which restaurant you're going to or which catering company is being used.

woman eating packed lunch at her desk

4. Treat your symptoms

There is little you can do to predict a flare-up of symptoms, but you can take control by consulting your doctor. You might be able to tackle symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation or abdominal pain, with medication. Learn to know what triggers these symptoms, whether it’s a certain type of food or stress, and try to eliminate it. You can also try behavioural therapy such as breathing exercises for pain.

Woman taking medication at her desk

5. Manage your stress

It is known that stress can trigger symptoms of IBS. While you cannot eliminate stress at work altogether, you can learn to anticipate and manage it.

Woman feeling happy at her desk

6. Enquire about flexibility

Not all work environments are flexible, but if you work in an office environment, ask about the possibility of working from home when your symptoms flare up.

woman working from her home on laptop

Image credit: iStock

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