How to Deal with IBS Diarrhea Urgency

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If you suffer from diarrhea predominant IBS (IBS-D), you know well the feeling of panic that can accompany urgent waves of diarrhea. Fear of having a bathroom accident can send your anxiety soaring. Like a bad Catch-22, this anxiety only makes things worse, increasing abdominal cramping and intensifying the sense of urgency. Luckily there are some things that you can do when experiencing IBS diarrhea urgency to help calm your system until you can safely make your way to a bathroom.

Talk Calmly to Yourself

Our bodies are very attuned to what we are thinking and feeling. When we talk to ourselves in a panicked way, our bodies respond by kicking on its stress response system. Thoughts such as "What if I don't make it to the bathroom on time?" and "This is awful!" send the message that an emergency is occurring. Unfortunately, the body is programmed to loosen bowel control in emergencies as the flight-or-flight response shuttles blood off to the extremities. Obviously, this is the exact opposite of what you want to have happen!

You can use this knowledge of the workings of your digestive system to your advantage. Talking calmly to yourself will encourage your body to "turn off" the alarm system.

Face the Fear of Bathroom Accidents

One of the biggest fears, of course, is that urgency will cause an accident before you can get to a bathroom. However, such accidents are fairly rare.

You may say, "Oh, but I made it there just in the nick of time." In my opinion, this is not just luck. Your body has been trained since you were very young to hold stool in until you are seated on the toilet. Reminding yourself of this fact will help you to move your body into a calmer direction.

Use Deep Breathing Techniques

A supervisor of mine from graduate school claimed that deep, diaphragmatic breathing reduced anxiety by half.

His specific advice was "So teach it." The nice thing about the use of deep breathing techniques, in contrast to other relaxation techniques, is that they can be used anywhere, anytime, without anyone else knowing. Like all skills, the more you practice the better you will be. Here you will find step-by-step instructions for using deep breathing for relaxation:

Calming Self Talk Examples

In using calming self talk, you want to think about talking to yourself the way you would talk to a close friend. Be kind, supportive and encouraging!

  • "I need to try to stay calm. Let me breathe deeply and try to be more relaxed as I make my way to a bathroom."
  • "The calmer I stay, the calmer my body will be."
  • "I need to have faith in my body, that it will not let loose until I am safely on the toilet."
  • "Everyone experiences bouts of diarrhea. People will not think poorly of me because I frequently need to get to the bathroom quickly."
  • "Let me pay attention to the fact that the urgency is coming in waves. Let me be reassured by the quieting of some of these waves that my relaxation is helping."


    Benson, H. The Relaxation Response (2000). New York: HarperTorch.

    Mayer, E.A., " Stress and the Gastrointestinal Tract" American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 2001 4:G519-G524.

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