Navigating High-Pressure Situations with IBD
We as IBD patients know how stressful it is to participate in almost any event outside the home that requires using a public bathroom that may or may not be readily available. But, adding a high-pressure situation on top of it can make symptoms worse, and thus the vicious cycle of being stressed and in pain continues.
When I think of high-pressure situations, the first things that come to mind are public speaking, an important work event, and meeting a significant other's parents. While I am no expert, I have had experiences in each of the aforementioned situations and have some tips on getting through them without a sweat.
Tips for when stressful situations trigger IBD symptoms
As part of my career, I host many workshops, both virtually and in person. And, while speaking publicly in front of an audience does not rattle my nerves, having the urge to use the bathroom just prior to going onstage (or mid-presentation) surely does. And, I know that the more nervous I get, the more likely I am to have to use the bathroom – a vicious cycle we all know too well. So, I always go into the event with a plan.
I arrive at least 20 minutes before my scheduled time so that I can assess the bathroom situation and create rapport with the audience (it helps calm my nerves if I feel they like me before I present). I also only eat a small amount prior to the speaking engagement and choose from my "safe foods" list to ensure there is nothing that can potentially upset my stomach at the last minute.
Aside from public speaking, your job may require you to attend major work events like conferences or host client meetings. These high-pressure situations are sure to make your stomach feel uneasy, and creating a plan is critical in getting through it successfully. Similar to above, scouting out the room and/or event space is important to feel comfortable.
I also like sitting on an end seat should I have to get up in the middle of a presentation and don't want to cause a big disturbance. If your work event is at a restaurant, chair seating is preferred to a booth, as you won't have to make fellow diners to get up frequently for you to urgently use the restroom. (Note: This is true for an airplane – always take the aisle seat!) And, should you find yourself mid-conversation when the urge to use the bathroom hits, politely excusing yourself to use the restroom is always acceptable, as long as to much information is not shared.
Meeting significant other's family
I honestly cannot think of a more nerve-wracking situation than meeting your significant other's family, especially when you have to use the bathroom several times while at their house. As mentioned above, be sure to stick to your "safe foods" both before and during the gathering, avoiding any potential trigger foods for at least 48 hours prior, just in case the effects linger.
If you are unsure of the menu, offer to bring a dish so that you know there is at least one thing you can safely eat without feeling sick, and if eating anything at all is off the table, fill your plate with small amounts of food and push it around to not make it that obvious that you are not actually eating. Be sure to drink water and engage in conversation to also not draw attention to the fact that you haven't put your fork to your mouth during the entire meal.
Depending on how the house is set up, you may benefit from using a bathroom that is further away from where most people are gathering. If the powder room off the kitchen is too close to the crowd for you, head to one on the second floor or in a different part of the house. And, so that you are not just lurking around an unfamiliar house, ask your significant other where the other bathroom is so that you can take a direct route.
Putting your mind (and bowels) at ease
These high-pressure situations are difficult for anyone, let alone someone living with IBD. Following these tips may help you take the edge off the situation and put your mind (and bowels) at ease. If you have navigated a difficult situation with ease, please share your tips with us!
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