How to Deal With IBS Diarrhea Urgency

The more panicked you are, the more urgent it will feel

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If you suffer from diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), you know well the feeling of panic that can accompany the feeling of impending diarrhea. The anxiety of not making it to a restroom in time can make the feeling 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.

Keep Your Gut in Check With a Pep Talk

Our bodies, especially our guts, 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 the stress response system. Unfortunately, the body is programmed to loosen bowel control in emergencies as part of the flight-or-flight response. 

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.

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 who was upset or agitated. 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."

    These may sound a little cheesy, but having a mantra can really help. Use whatever phrase or words of encouragement that work to help you stay calm and focused until you reach a restroom.

    Don't Try to Empty 

    Some people with IBS-D try to empty their bowels, believing this will reduce the probability of diarrhea.

    But the bowels are never completely empty; the body always is producing new stool. And constantly trying to empty will result in looser stools every time, which is harder for the body to contain. So by trying to go until you're empty is more likely to backfire than to help with the diarrhea problem. 

    Use Deep Breathing Techniques

    Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is shown to significantly reduce temporary anxiety. 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. 

    Remember Bathroom Accidents Are Rare
    For a person with a digestive issue that causes diarrhea, there's always the fear of not reaching a toilet in time. However, such accidents are fairly rare. Your body has been trained since you were very young to hold stool in until you are seated on the toilet. So if you're freaking out because you don't think you can hold it, just remember the odds are in your favor. 

    Sources:

    Ford, A., et.al. American College of Gastroenterology Monograph on the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Idiopathic Constipation American Journal of Gastroenterology 2014 109:S2-S26.

    Stress and the Gastrointestinal Tract American Journal of Physiology - Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology 2011 4:G519-G524.

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