As a practising hypnotherapist, I frequently treat clients for Irritable
Bowel Syndrome. Many are surprised when I tell them there is a link between
stress and their painful and distressing illness.
That is not to say that
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is wholly caused by stress, (some research suggests
that it is viral in origin), but it is becoming clearer that a large factor in
making Irritable Bowel Syndrome worse is stress.
I put together this question and answer sheet which I give to my clients. You
may find it useful too.
How can my stress affect my IBS?
Because of the particular link between the gut and the brain, stress can
affect the way your digestive system works in a very direct way. This is obvious
if you think about it.
Nearly all of us have experienced feeling nauseous or
having an upset tummy when we are nervous or anxious. An American researcher
called Dr Douglas Drossman has recently found that nearly three quarters of
people in the general population (that is people who haven't sought help for IBS
or similar conditions) say they suffer from changes in bowel function as a
reaction to stressful situations and over half of these also have pain and
So stress and digestive problems are very closely linked. Research into
exactly how this happens hasn't yet found the whole answer, but it does seem
that chemical changes in the brain, brought on by stressful situations such as a
bad time at work or having to do a big presentation, can affect the way what you
eat goes through your digestive system.
But everyone suffers stress these days. Why have I got IBS and my friend
Everyone is unique and different people react to stress in different ways.
Some people are better able to cope with certain sorts of stress. For others,
its effects come out in different ways.
Some experts say people with IBS may find it more difficult to cope with
stressful situations, events which some people can just shrug off can spark
episodes of IBS in others and some people may also just experience stressful
situations in a stronger way, and therefore feel they have chronic or acute
stress for long periods of their lives.
Okay I understand that, but that can't account for the pain I feel
Yes it can. Stress and pain, or more correctly the perception of pain, are
very closely linked. Again this is obvious if you stop to think about it. If you
have a headache and you know you have a bad day at work coming up, it probably
feels worse than if your head hurts and all you have to do that day is walk
along a golden sandy beach. Stress related chemicals can affect how we perceive
the pain signals our brains send out whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.
But here again the close link between the digestive system and the brain can
particularly affect your IBS.
The pain signals your brain sends out affect the
nerve endings in your gut very directly - and that can lead to a horrid loop.
The pain is making your IBS worse which in turn is making the pain worse.
I understand that but it's awful. What can I do?
Actually quite a lot. Because of the close role stress plays in making your
IBS worse if we can control the stress it is likely that your IBS symptoms will
decline. I always say that as a hypnotherapist I can work with you to control
your IBS not cure it. Also teamwork is key here -a good hypnotherapist will work
with you to access other sources of help as well. For example, some
psychological drugs such as amitriptyline can help and your GP can prescribe
Do I need to come to a hypnotherapist? Can't I just avoid stressful
situations by myself?
Possibly and some people do. But a skilled therapist can help you to find
what particular triggers make IBS worse for you and then teach you how to cope
with them. The other key thing a good hypnotherapist will do is teach you how to
control and manage your pain. This in itself can lead to a decrease in your
This is fascinating. Just finding this out makes me think I can get in
control. Is there anything else I can read?
There has been some very good research into
hypnotherapy and IBS in recent years. A pioneer in this field is Professor Peter
Whorwell from Manchester University, who says that hypnotherapy is over 70 per
cent effective. You can read more about his research at ( http://www.medicine.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/ibs
). Another good source of information is the IBS research update, produced by a
team at the Central Middlesex hospital in London.
You can find out more about their research at http://www.ibsresearchupdate.org/.