Ready for some wild facts about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)? It affects between 25-45 million people just in the United States, 10-15% worldwide and out of those suffering the majority are women. IBS can be anything from cramps, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation. For me, it has always been gas and diarrhea which is not only embarrassing to deal with at work but also scary at times. IBS is also second, right below the common cold, for reasons for work absences but it is not considered as serious by many people. It can be hard for managers and colleagues to understand when you need to call in sick, go home early or miss a meeting. At the same time, it’s also hard to tell your coworkers that your stomach is bothering you and you need to go home. Not having something tangible as a fever, strep or some other illness can sometimes make it harder to be taken seriously. I have had many friends confide in me the anxiety they have when going to work, attending a social event or traveling. The overlaying fear is having an episode and being trapped somewhere.
I have found over the years many different ways of coping with my IBS while at work. I know for me once my stomach feels “wobbly” as I like to put it, it triggers my stress and anxiety. At this point your brain and gut are in overdrive and it can easily go from a 1 to 10. It is so important to have strategies to help cope with this before you get to a level 10. For years I had board room meeting twice a week that I was responsible for setting up and being in charge of running that began at 7:30 AM. This meant I had to be at work as early as 7 AM which was extremely stressful for me. As we all know, stress and the stomach is a terrible combination. Almost every morning I would have to use these strategies to get through the morning.
Some of my strategies for coping while at work:
- Sip on hot water or peppermint tea.
- If you are in a meeting and nervous about your stomach blowing up, sit in the back at the end of the row so you can easily exit.
- Have someone you can text or call when you’re feeling anxious about your stomach at work. It’s a huge help being distracted and taking your mind off your stomach.
- Have tummy safe foods available at your office. It can be different for everyone but for me that looks like peppermint tea, cheerios and crackers.
- Be kind to yourself. If you need to go home, don’t beat yourself up over it. As my old manager/mentor always would say to me: “this isn’t brain surgery, no one will die if you’re not here today.” If you’re a brain surgeon…don’t know what to tell you though. LOL
- It’s okay to need to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of a meeting. At the end of the day, no one really cares or notices.
- I can’t help but mention the FODMAP diet. This diet was a HUGE win for me when it came to managing my IBS especially while at work. If you’re a beginner (or just need some new recipes and guidance) check out my book.
Want to read what some of the experts recommend? Read here.