Why this holiday season can trigger IBS symptoms

This holiday season was supposed to be different from 2020. With more people being vaccinated and getting a booster, most families began looking forward to finally celebrating the holidays together again. But as the omicron variant continues its quick spread, IBS Life readers are again feeling the stress and anxiety of being alone and isolated.

People feel the effects of stress and anxiety in different ways. For those with IBS, it can trigger constipation or diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea. Unfortunately, the pandemic has drastically affected people with IBS, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. Among those who participated in the study:

· 92% reported increased stress,

· 81% said they were anxious

· 67% admitted to experiencing depressive symptoms.

When asked about their IBS, 48% reported increased abdominal pain, 45% diarrhea, and 44% constipation. Ouch.

IBS Life reached out to registered dietitian/nutritionists Morgan Murdock and Yuliya Gudkova, and psychiatrist Ghada Albeheary, MD. These professionals have many suggestions on how to best manage the anxiety some readers are currently feeling.

Murdock, who works at Health Loft, a physical therapy and nutrition service space, recommends that people stay on their regular routines and eat consistent, balanced meals. Setting boundaries and prioritizing mental health, she says, are key to easing IBS symptoms. Skipping meals because of lack of appetite will only lead to triggering those symptoms.

“Tune into what your body is telling you and listen to hunger and fullness cues,” Murdock recommended. “Treat every day like a normal fueling day, which will help reduce stress both mentally and physically.”

Because alcohol is a depressant, Murdock advises that people who are already feeling unhappy should avoid drinking. While it may feel good initially, alcohol can also quickly lead to negative thoughts and overdrinking.

Gudkova adds that alcohol could also irritate the gut. Liquor, such as rum, sweet wines, and mixed cocktails, are also high in FODMAPs, which could only make IBS symptoms worse. Gudkova suggests turning to "mocktails" or spirit-free drinks to avoid alcohol consumption.

Dr. Albeheary confirmed that anxiety tends to worsen during the holidays, caused by social obligations, financial pressures, and the pandemic. To keep emotions in check, Dr. Albeheary emphasizes that it’s important for people to focus on mindfulness, which is a simple way of focusing one’s thoughts to achieve a sense of calm.

“When possible, find a way to move the body every day,” said Dr. Albeheary, “Whether it is working out, going on a walk, or doing restorative yoga. Moving the body not only is a great mood booster, but it also helps with digestion and regular bowel movements."

The omicron variant may have changed people’s holiday plans, but being mindful, avoiding alcohol, and continuing to follow a healthy meal plan can help with the added stress. Most importantly, our experts suggest seeking professional help if depression and anxiety are difficult to overcome.