Avoiding IBS Triggers in Social Situations

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on March 13, 2017Written by Rachel Nall, RN, BSN, CCRN

IBS triggers in social situations

If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you might feel like avoiding social situations. Going to dinners or unfamiliar places can be a challenge. You may be worried about not locating a bathroom fast enough or eating a food that could trigger your IBS symptoms.

As a result, you could find yourself trying to regain control of social situations by only eating at familiar restaurants where you know the location of the bathroom. Or you decide not to disclose you have IBS for fear of social disapproval.

But you don’t have to avoid social situations when you have IBS. Instead, try the following tips to enjoy a greater quality of life.

Common IBS triggers

When you have IBS, you’ll notice that certain foods and behaviors trigger or worsen your symptoms. An estimated 75 percent of people with IBS report that stress causes them significant abdominal pain and triggers their symptoms. Anxiety and depression are also considered major symptom triggers.

In addition to these factors, certain foods may cause or worsen IBS symptoms. Some people with IBS may worry about eating these foods in public because they could cause stomach upset or worsening of IBS symptoms. Examples of these foods include:

  • alcohol
  • beans
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • carbonated drinks
  • cauliflower
  • chocolate
  • high-fat foods
  • milk
  • raw fruits
  • spicy foods

While these foods represent common IBS triggers, many other foods and drinks can potentially worsen IBS symptoms.

To find out what your specific food triggers are, try keeping a food diary. Write down all the foods and drinks you have in a day and any symptoms that occur. You may also wish to add comments about your mood or frame of mind, as these can certainly impact your IBS.

By tracking your symptoms and when they occur, you can potentially identify patterns that will help you determine what may trigger your IBS. If you’re still having a difficult time, talk to your doctor.

Tips for preparing for social situations

Having IBS can make you feel at war with your body. However, several strategies can help you prepare for being away from home without incident. While it may take some time and adjustments to find the routine that’s just right for you, these tips are a good place to start.

Eat at regular times

When you have IBS, you thrive on routine to keep your bowel function regular. Whenever possible, try to schedule social outings, such as lunch or dinner, when you typically eat your meals.

Get help finding bathrooms

Download an app that helps you locate a bathroom quickly and easily, no matter where you are.

Carry supplies in your bag

Be prepared for accidents by having supplies such as baby wipes, potpourri spray, and a change of underwear on hand. Knowing you have these at your disposal can help relieve anxiety and prepare you for any circumstance.

Eat and drink the right amount of fiber and water

Eat a sufficient amount of fiber on a daily basis, particularly if you experience frequent constipation or alternating bowel symptoms with IBS. About 20 to 35 grams of fiber is an average number, although this number may vary based on your health. To avoid bloating, add only 2 to 3 grams of fiber per day.

Ensure you drink enough liquids, about 8 to 10 glasses of water or other caffeine-free beverages, a day.

Consider taking probiotics daily

Probiotics are naturally found in some types of yogurts and can also be purchased in pill form at most drugstores. They are considered healthy bacteria that help ease symptoms associated with IBS.

Make the trip short

For anyone who has experienced a painful episode after a social outing, getting back out there can be hard. Try a “small-steps approach” instead by making quick trips to social settings, such as spending 15 minutes at the mall or going for a short walk outside. This approach can be extremely helpful in preparing you for longer outings.

Tips for avoiding IBS triggers

Stress, lack of sleep, and bowel-irritating foods are all potential triggers that can derail social situations when you have IBS. Try these tips to reduce triggers and more.

Work to manage your stress

Stress can be a key contributing factor to triggering IBS. Sometimes the worry that you will have symptoms may worsen your IBS. Practices like meditation, yoga, and journaling are all ways to relieve the stress in your life.

Get regular amounts of sleep

Try to go to bed at a regular time and avoid excessive daytime napping. Practice proper sleep hygiene by avoiding electronic devices in your bedroom, keeping the temperature cool, and using blackout curtains to keep the area dark.

Avoid known food triggers

This especially includes dairy products, alcohol, and caffeine. By keeping a food diary as mentioned earlier, you may learn what foods to avoid.

Don’t order from the menu

When eating out, order simple foods that are less likely to trigger your symptoms. Examples include steamed vegetables and sauteed chicken breasts prepared in olive oil. Keeping foods simple reduces the likelihood the restaurant will add unwanted spices or other foods that could trigger IBS symptoms.

Bring your own food

Many have dietary restrictions, so it isn’t unheard of to bring your own food to a restaurant or social gathering.

Don’t avoid eating

Although some people with IBS avoid eating before they go out, this plan sometimes backfires. When you wait to eat outside your normal eating pattern, your body may get sent into overdrive and your symptoms worsen.

The takeaway

If you’ve taken the recommended steps to reduce IBS symptoms in social situations, yet your symptoms persist, you may wish to pursue counseling. Seeing a professional therapist or psychiatrist can help you identify triggers and treat any underlying conditions, such as anxiety and depression, that may be contributing to your symptoms.

With time and taking care of yourself, you can enjoy social situations. As you feel more comfortable with friends and family, you can build a support system of people who know you experience this condition and will help you if you’re going through a period of more active symptoms.

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