How do I get rid of IBS anxiety?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the large intestine. It can cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Many people with IBS also experience increased anxiety and stress. The anxiety related to IBS can make symptoms worse. Here are some tips for reducing anxiety when living with IBS.

Get the Right Diagnosis

Seeing a doctor and getting an accurate IBS diagnosis is important for reducing anxiety. Other conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and colon cancer can cause similar symptoms. Knowing you have IBS and not another condition provides peace of mind.

A doctor will likely perform tests to help confirm IBS. This may include blood tests, stool studies and a colonoscopy. Once other conditions are ruled out, the doctor can provide an IBS diagnosis.

Identify and Avoid Triggers

Certain foods, drinks and stress can trigger IBS symptoms. Keeping a food and symptom journal can help identify personal triggers. Some common IBS triggers include:

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy
  • Beans, cabbage and other gas-producing foods
  • Fructose (found in fruit and fruit juices)
  • Foods containing sorbitol or xylitol
  • Stress

Avoiding or reducing these triggers can decrease IBS symptoms and anxiety. Talk to a doctor or dietitian for help managing triggers.

Consider Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help reduce anxiety related to IBS. CBT aims to change negative thought patterns that fuel anxiety. A therapist helps you identify stressful thoughts about IBS symptoms and replace them with more realistic, positive thoughts.

CBT may also include relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises and exposure therapy. Research shows CBT and relaxation therapy can improve IBS symptoms, anxiety and quality of life.

Practice Stress Management

Stress intensifies symptoms for many people with IBS. Making time for stress management can help. Consider trying:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Exercise like walking, swimming or cycling
  • Getting enough sleep

Engaging in relaxing activities can stimulate the body’s relaxation response and lower stress hormones. This helps ease digestive symptoms.

Consider Hypnosis

Hypnosis performed by a trained professional may reduce IBS symptoms. Studies show hypnosis can improve abdominal pain, bloating, bowel habits and anxiety in people with IBS.

Hypnosis aims to produce deep relaxation. The hypnotherapist uses verbal repetition and mental images to create a relaxed state. They may provide suggestions to reduce pain and improve bowel function.

The effects of hypnosis on IBS symptoms may last several years. Multiple sessions are typically needed for best results.

Take Prescription Medications If Recommended

For some people, prescription medications can help manage IBS symptoms and anxiety. Options may include:

  • Antispasmodics to reduce muscle spasms and pain in the intestine
  • Tricyclic antidepressants to relax the gut and reduce visceral hypersensitivity
  • SSRIs or SNRIs to manage anxiety and depression
  • Rifaximin to reduce bloating and diarrhea by treating small intestine bacterial overgrowth

Discuss medication options with your doctor to determine if prescription treatment could benefit you.

Consider Probiotics

Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy, balanced gut microbiome. Some studies show probiotics may reduce anxiety in people with IBS. They may also help lower abdominal pain, bloating and stool frequency.

Research on specific probiotic strains is limited. Two strains that show some promise are Bifidobacterium longum and Bifidobacterium breve. Talk to your doctor before trying probiotics for IBS and anxiety.

Seek Out Support

Having IBS can feel isolating and embarrassing. Joining a support group lets you connect with others facing the same challenges. It provides a judgment-free place to share experiences and tips.

Online forums like the IBS subreddit allow you to anonymously get support from your home. Apps like Monash University’s IBS Central also let you track symptoms and connect with other IBS patients.

Support groups and forums help reduce loneliness and anxiety related to IBS. You realize you are not alone in struggling with difficult symptoms.

Adjust Your Diet

Eating a diet tailored to IBS may minimize symptoms like pain, gas and diarrhea. This can in turn decrease anxiety around bowel issues.

A low FODMAP diet is often recommended for managing IBS. FODMAPS are fermentable carbs that can trigger digestive issues. Following a low FODMAP diet for 4-8 weeks can provide symptom relief for many with IBS.

A dietician can help identify high FODMAP foods to limit or avoid. They can also guide you in slowly reintroducing FODMAPS to find your personal tolerances.

Get More Exercise

Being more physically active may reduce anxiety and improve IBS symptoms. Exercise helps boost feel-good endorphins and distracts from gastrointestinal issues.

Aim for 30 minutes of activity on most days. Walking, swimming, cycling and yoga are great options. Start slowly if you are new to exercise. Stop any activity that worsens symptoms.

Reduce high-intensity activities that can trigger gut issues. Instead focus on moderate, relaxing movement. Also avoid exercise right after eating.

Consider Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies like accupuncture, peppermint oil and gut-directed hypnotherapy may provide relief for IBS. Studies show they can reduce pain, discomfort, diarrhea and constipation associated with IBS.

Relieving these symptoms through natural therapies may lower anxiety around bowel function. Herbal remedies like peppermint oil capsules are a safe first option to try under a doctor’s supervision.

Establish a Routine

Having a consistent daily routine can minimize IBS anxiety. Try to eat and sleep around the same times each day. Build regular exercise and stress management activities into your schedule.

Knowing what to expect each day helps reduce worries over erratic bowel habits. You can plan tasks for times when your symptoms tend to be milder.

A predictable routine also limits decision fatigue from your IBS. You won’t waste mental energy deciding when to eat or which activities to do.

Use Relaxation Techniques

Using quick relaxation techniques throughout the day can calm your mind and body. Here are some easy 5-minute relaxation habits to try:

  • Take 5 deep, slow breaths. Inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips.
  • Visualize a peaceful, calming place like a beach or forest sanctuary.
  • Listen to soothing nature sounds like ocean waves, rainfall or birdsong.
  • Tense and relax each muscle group in your body one at a time.
  • Recite positive affirmations to yourself like “I am strong” and “This too shall pass.”

Use these mini relaxation practices whenever you feel stressed or anxious. They can reset your mindset and prevent worry from escalating.

Seek Psychotherapy

Seeing a therapist or psychologist can help when anxiety around IBS persists despite lifestyle measures. A mental health professional can provide tools to reduce gastrointestinal and other anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to treat health-related anxiety. A therapist will teach you to identify and reframe anxious thinking patterns.

Finding the root causes of your mental health struggles is also key. Therapy provides a judge-free space to discuss life stressors that may contribute to anxiety.

Lean On Your Support System

Having trusted friends and family to lean on helps reduce loneliness and anxiety with chronic illnesses. Sharing your experiences and frustrations with loved ones can relieve built-up stress.

Let your support system know how they can best help you. This may include listening when you need to vent or providing comfort foods suited to your diet.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help around the house, running errands or other tasks when your symptoms flare up. Good friends and family want to support you.

Consider Using Anti-Anxiety Medications

If anxiety persists and interferes with daily life, anti-anxiety medication may help. Benzodiazepines like lorazepam provide short-term relief of anxiety symptoms.

However, benzodiazepine dependence and addiction is possible with long-term use. Other options like SSRIs or buspirone may be safer for ongoing use under a doctor’s care.

Discuss medication options with both your primary care doctor and a mental health professional. Compare the risks and potential benefits.

Join a Clinical Trial

Joining a clinical research study for new IBS treatments may provide hope. You’ll get access to promising experimental therapies before they become widely available.

Studies exploring novel medications, diets, probiotics and other IBS treatments are underway. Look for recruiting trials on sites like or the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders.

Participating in research also lets you contribute to scientific progress in treating IBS and its related anxiety. You’ll partner with experts working to find solutions.

Consider Therapy Animals or Pets

Spending time with animals can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and improve mood. Therapy animals like dogs are sometimes brought into hospitals or nursing homes for these benefits.

Having your own pet can provide companionship and stress relief at home. Caring for an animal also gives you purpose and motivation to stay active.

If adopting isn’t possible, visit pet therapy programs at local hospitals, libraries or senior centers. Or try websites like Pettable to connect with pet owners willing to share their animal’s comfort.

Use Meditation and Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation helps calm anxieties by refocusing your mind on the present moment. Apps like Headspace and Calm provide guided meditations for beginners.

Try starting with short 5 to 10 minute sessions. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Clear your mind of ruminating thoughts.

Practicing mindfulness in daily activities is also beneficial. Intentionally bring awareness to your senses during routine tasks like eating, walking and chores.

Find New Hobbies and Pursuits

Immersing yourself in enjoyable hobbies and activities provides distraction from IBS worries. Fun diversions like gardening, hiking, reading or art let your mind take a break.

Playing games and doing puzzles also engages your brain to reduce repetitive anxious thoughts. Or learn something new like knitting, coding or a language.

Choose low-key pursuits that don’t worsen your symptoms. Take it easy if your symptoms flare up. Focus on rest and self-care.

Learn Helpful Coping Strategies

Having a toolbox of healthy coping strategies empowers you to manage anxiety as it arises. Helpful skills to learn include:

  • Positive self-talk – Replace negative thoughts with kind, rational messages to yourself.
  • Reframing – View situations from a different perspective to see positives.
  • Acceptance – Allow thoughts and feelings to pass through your mind without judgment.
  • Distraction – Shift focus away from worries to external things around you.

A counselor can guide you in practicing and applying these techniques. Over time they become automatic for defusing anxious thought spirals.


Living with IBS and anxiety can feel like a vicious cycle, with each making the other worse. Breaking that cycle requires a multi-pronged self-care approach. Lifestyle changes, therapy techniques, social support and medical treatments together can help relieve IBS anxiety.

Be patient and compassionate with yourself through the process. Healing from chronic illnesses takes time, effort and courage. By exploring different remedies and sticking with what works, you can find an anxiety relief toolkit tailored to your needs.

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