Mindfulness for IBS?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the quality of being truly present; your body, attention and emotions are focused in the very moment that is unfolding. 

In the modern world with 24/7 communication in the palm of our hands, competing demands of our time and with many of us living in societies that never seem to sleep, being truly mindful can be very challenging…very, very challenging. 

So is there a particular role for mindfulness if you have IBS? 

Stress, Anxiety and IBS

Why are a Gastroenterologist and Dietitian talking about mindfulness? Because mindfulness can help to lower your stress and anxiety levels and this is particularly important if you have a DGBI (Disorder of gut-brain interaction) like Irritable bowel Syndrome or Functional Dyspepsia.

An anxious or stressed mind is not helpful for Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Functional Dyspepsia  and may lead to a worsening of symptoms like bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.  

Should you do mindfulness if you have IBS?

Mindfulness isn’t a magic fix for your gut symptoms, stress or anxiety and it does take practice but it can be a very useful part of your toolkit to manage IBS or FD. When practicing mindfulness we can become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and we have a greater ability to halt unhelpful thinking patterns. 

Benefits of Mindfulness if you have IBS

The results of an RCT (Randomised Controlled Trial) that explored the efficacy of a group program of mindfulness training for women with IBS published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2011 found that,

“mindfulness training has a substantial therapeutic effect on bowel symptom severity, improves health-related quality of life, and reduces distress.” And that the beneficial effects persisted for at least 3 months after the 8 weeks of group training.*

And mindfulness is recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had 3 or more bouts of depression in the past.

So how can you start to become more mindful? And do you need to do a structured programme or mindfulness training?

MINDFULNESS BLOG - INTERNAL IMAGE

How to Practice Mindfulness

You don’t have to follow a structured programme or mindfulness training but you may find this helpful, particularly initially. Your GP may be able to advise of a service/teacher and there are lots of helpful mindfulness and meditation apps and online programmes now available.

The NHS and the HSE recommend:

  • Notice the everyday, such as the air you breathe and the food you eat
  • Pick the same time each day during which you decide to pause and be aware of the world around you – this could be your mindfulness meditation during which you pay attention to the sounds around you and the sensations in your body
  • Try something new like sitting in a different seat in meetings – this can help you see things in a different way 
  • Gentle walking or yoga can help you cope if you have an over-busy mind
  • Name thoughts and feelings, for example, ‘this is anxiety’
  • Free yourself from the past and future – this is particularly important if you notice you have spent some time “stuck” in the past/future 

The FLAT Gut Diet Plan and TEAMS

The ‘T’ in the FLAT Gut Diet Plan acronym stands for Total Mind and Body Health. This is an integral part of the plan and includes the TEAMS factors:

  • Exercise
  • Alcohol
  • Mental health
  • Sleep 


These are all factors that play a role in controlling or worsening symptoms of many gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, functional dyspepsia  and other gut problems.

As we’ve discussed in this article, mindfulness is one way that you can actively nurture your mental health, so pause, take a breath and look around.

*REF: Am J Gastroenterol 2011; 106:1678–1688; doi: 10.1038/ajg.2011.184; published online 21 June 2011 

©The Gut Experts 2022

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