Why Your Digestive Issues May Be Worse During the Pandemic

Whether you have IBS or not you may have noticed that your digestive issues have been significantly worse during the last month. There are two main reason why this can be happening:

1) Increased stress:

Both physical and emotional stress and anxiety can increase gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, which can be amplified by IBS. Although individual triggers for people are unique, the one similarity found is that increased stress levels increase GI Issues including loss of appetite, cramping, bloating, and inflammation along the gastrointestinal track.

When the body experiences stress, the fight or flight response (sympathetic nervous system) gets triggered. This results in elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and heightened awareness— all preparing you to get ready to deal with stress (fight of flight). There is less focus on your digestion during this time which may result in any of the following symptoms:

  • Increase stomach acid
    • Increased indigestion
    • Increased reflux
    • Increase nausea
  • Increased motility (diarrhea)
    • Stomach churning
    • Increased bowel urgency
    • Reduced ability to digest food
  • Decreased motility
    • Constipation
    • Hemorrhoids
    • Reduced appetite
  • Cramping
  • Bloating, gas
  • Inflammation
  • Gut bacteria imbalance/dysbiosis
  • Abdominal discomfort

 

What can you do?

Focus on self-care. Try to take time to reduce your stress level and focus on yourself. Pick activities that help you to feel more connected with yourself and reduce your overall stress. Self-care is very individual, and it may look different each day. Take time to slow down, reflect on your day and your stress level.  Ask your body: “what do I need”?  Here are some examples of activities that can all help to increase your self-care:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Going for a walk
  • Taking a bath
  • A phone call with family or friend
  • Virtual game night
  • Cook or baking a favorite recipe
  • Doing a puzzle
  • Listen to positive audio
  • Crafting
  • Playing a game
  • Prepping food to have on hand
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Journal

 

2) A change in routine:

For much of the population right now there has been a huge change in routine and people are finding they are home for longer periods of time. For someone with a sensitive gut this may be affecting your symptoms as it likely has changed how you fuel your body. From sessions this past week I find clients are either eating too frequently (and not always out of hunger), going too long between meals and snacks, or using caffeine to increase energy levels in place of food and water. All can cause symptoms.

 

What you can do:

Take some time to collect some objective data on yourself. Journal your food and reflect on your symptoms, environment, bowel routine and stress etc.

Make note of:

o   What time you ate

o   What you ate

o   How much you ate

o   Bowel movements

o   Water/fluid intake

o   Stress levels

o   Monthly menstrual cycle

 

o   Symptoms throughout the day

§  What time they occur

§  How uncomfortable are they

o   How was your sleep

o   How is your energy

o   How much coffee/tea you had to drink

 

After a few days of reflecting, look at the data and see if you notice any trends. Take some time and reflect on a time when your symptoms seemed more manageable; does it look similar or is there opportunity to make some changes?

Keep in mind we are here to help! If you need help managing your gut issues during this time, please feel free to reach out for a virtual session.

 

By Kelsey Hagen

– Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)

 

 

References:
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. (2017)
    org/patients/disease-information/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/
  • Qin, H.-Y., Cheng, C.-W., Tang, X.-D., & Bian, Z.-X. (2014, October 21). Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome. World Journal of Gastroenterology:WJG, 20(39), 14126-14131
    • Lovell RM, Ford AC. Global prevalence of and risk factors for irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012;10:712–721.e4.
    • Katsanos AH, Giannopoulos S, Georgios Tsivgoulis. The brain-gut axis in the pathophysiology of irritable bowel syndrome. Immuno-Gastroenterol. 2012;1:23–26