I see a lot of people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as learning to relax and reduce stress and anxiety levels is a large part of managing the condition. When Frances* came to see me she told me that she had managed to reduce the stress in her life, and so she couldn’t work out why her IBS was so bad.
“I do all the shopping, banking, everything really, over the internet so I don’t have to worry about being out and finding a toilet” she told me. “I’ve cut all that stress out of my life but I feel as if the IBS is getting worse than ever.”
Frances had done what was natural, and come up with a ways of avoiding stressful situations and feelings of anxiety. What had been meant to keep her safe had backfired though, and left her feeling more anxious about her IBS as her exposure to those situations had become less and less.
Part of helping her to cope better with those situations and feelings was to help her to learn to experience them and realise that feeling uncomfortable didn’t automatically mean that things were going to be awful. We did a lot of work on helping Frances become more resilient, and to be able to go to the shops by being able to accept some of the anxiety that came with that.
Helping her to become better able to cope with anxiety and stress led, as it always does, to her becoming less stressed and anxious anyway. The other strand in the work that we did was some guided visualisation, a technique that is standard in the NHS use of hypnotherapy to help manage IBS.
It involved asking Frances to picture walking through a wood and finding herself on a river bank. As she looked at the river she saw that it was flowing too quickly, and crashing against rocks and branches. She then was able to control the flow of the river, slowing it down, and making it calmer and more regular, to the extent that she could look in the river and clearly see her own reflection looking back at her.
The subconscious effect of the image of the flowing river, plus her increased resilience and ability to cope with stress, have both seen Frances much better able to manage her IBS and to engage with the outside world much more.
*Frances’s real identity has been protected, and she is happy to share her story.