R U OK? Day, mental health and how to support those with IBS

Posted on September 06, 2022

What is R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day is a National Day of Action, which aims to highlight the importance of suicide prevention. R U OK? Day contributes to suicide prevention efforts by reminding all Australians of the importance of checking in with others, opening a dialogue and genuinely asking “are you OK?”. Every day is the day to start an important and meaningful conversation with family, friends and colleagues regarding their mental health. Having these purposeful conversations allows us to create internal support networks, help those in our community feel supported and motivate others to access help before a crisis may develop.

Mental Health, IBS and The Low FODMAP diet

It has been suggested that there is a link between our guts, mental illness and IBS. Although anxiety and depression may not be the sole cause of digestive disorders such as IBS, those who live with IBS may feel more sensitive to these conditions, due to the impacts they can have on quality of life. Heightened emotions such as stress, anxiety and depression can worsen IBS symptoms and contribute to flares. Research has demonstrated a link between increased stress and anxiety and IBS symptoms. This is a complex topic, however it can be attributed to the connection between the mind and the gut, called the gut-brain axis. This connection works to communicate information both ways using neurotransmitters and hormones and plays an integral role in regulating our mood, sleep, pain, stress and hunger. When we are feeling stressed, this can sometimes be felt in the gut via uncomfortable symptoms and a vicious cycle can occur.

Those with medically diagnosed IBS may follow a Low FODMAP diet for a period of time, which can reduce uncomfortable gut symptoms. By limiting FODMAPs, inflammation within the gut that has been created in response to stresses can also be reduced, promoting a calming effect on both the gut and mind. However, do keep in mind that a Low FODMAP diet should not be your ‘forever diet’, but is a useful tool to ease symptoms and pin-point problematic foods.

How can you assist those with IBS or those following a Low FODMAP diet?

There are many ways you can assist family or friends who have IBS and may be following a Low FODMAP diet. If someone you love has IBS, do not underestimate the power of support. It has been shown that those with IBS who feel supported by the people around them experience less severe symptoms and reduced stress.

Here are some simple and easy tips on how you can support someone with IBS:

1. Educate yourself
Having a basic knowledge of IBS is important in order to understand what someone else may be feeling. Check out some of the useful blogs on our website to familiarise yourself with all things IBS.

2. Be supportive
IBS symptoms are often unpredictable, causing some to potentially shy away from social situations. Be aware that planning and attending social activities (especially meals) may be difficult for those with IBS and can contribute to increased stress. We suggest acting with compassion by considering the impacts IBS can have on someone’s life and trying to accommodate their needs (for example, when choosing restaurants).

3. Food options
Whether you are hosting a social gathering, or family dinner at home, try to make sure there are food options for all, including those with IBS. Modifying recipes to suit or making low FODMAP meals can be a great support to others, as it can lessen the stress and fear around food consumption. For easy, delicious, and quick low FODMAP recipes check out our website and we guarantee you will not be stuck on ideas!
Additionally, if someone with IBS is struggling to find low FODMAP foods, it can be a great idea to go grocery shopping with them and work through what foods to purchase together. A helpful tip from us; download our FODMAP friendly app (available on Android and Apple) to view low FODMAP foods and certified products.

4. Don’t play the blame game
It’s important to remember that IBS is no one’s fault. It is understandable that wanting to help your loved one is your top priority, however constantly making comments regarding their eating habits or worrying too much is likely not helpful and can often lead to more stress. IBS flare ups cannot always be prevented, so it is important that you support them as they need.

In Summary

It can be quite normal to experience periods of depression, increased stress and anxiety, particularly during an IBS flare. The gut and brain are closely linked, meaning when there is a disturbance in one, the other is often affected. However, there are many ways that you can help to ease the burden of IBS for others and support their mental health. Remember that every day is a good day to ask ‘are you OK?’. Letting those with IBS know that they are not alone and are supported can be a huge help. Let’s assist in highlighting the importance of mental health awareness and keep this important conversation going.

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