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IBS and Work: Six Point Survival Guide

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Updated December 09, 2012

It can be challenging to deal with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and work. When an average person wakes up with severe abdominal pain and cramping, they call in sick without giving it a second thought. When these symptoms occur on a chronic, perhaps even everyday basis, such as with IBS, calling in sick may no longer be a simple option. Since few jobs offer the luxury of uninterrupted private access to a bathroom, here are some ideas for dealing with the demands of working with IBS.

1. Tell the Right People

Photo: David De Lossy/Getty Images

If your company offers confidential counseling in terms of an employee assistance program (EAP) or a human resources department, make an appointment to find out what modifications may be available to you in terms of your health condition. Closer to home, consider telling your immediate supervisor about your IBS. Your boss will hopefully be more understanding of your need to take sick time or your reluctance to take on stressful responsibilities such as those that involve travel or public speaking. Make a careful choice and confide in trustworthy coworkers who can help to cover your responsibilities should you need to use the restroom for an extended period of time.

2. Ask for Flexibility

While it is true that most jobs are fairly inflexible when it comes to accommodating human concerns, it never hurts to ask! Speak with your boss about adjusting your schedule in a way that would put less stress on your digestive system. With the wonders of modern technology, perhaps the company would be willing to let you work from home on the days that your IBS flare-up is more severe. Another option is to ask for a later shift, as IBS symptoms are often worse in the morning. A more extreme option is to look for a different job - one that offers more flexibility or is better suited to the special needs of your body.

For more information on reasonable accommodations at work, see:

3. Maintain a Regular Schedule

Your reality is that you have a digestive system that is highly reactive so your best bet is to treat it with kid gloves. Make sure you maintain regular sleep and eating habits, aiming for regularly timed, small, low-fat meals to avoid strengthening the gastrocolic reflex. If constipation is your predominant symptom, allow time every morning for a relaxed trip to the bathroom.

4. Stay on Top of your Work

One of the major contributors to IBS symptoms is stress. Don’t fall into the procrastination trap! Deadlines can be very stressful - make sure to utilize good time management skills and map out a plan to get your work done in a timely, relaxed manner.

5. Use Relaxation Exercises

The most important tool in your IBS arsenal is the development of relaxation skills. Using relaxation skills on a regular basis reduces your overall stress level and provides you with a means for counteracting the stress response that may be triggered by a high pressure meeting or the need to give a presentation. Try the following and see which one works best for you:

6. Inquire About Disability Benefits

Disability should be seen as a last resort, as it is generally better for a person's mental health to be engaged in meaningful employment. However, for severe cases of IBS, temporary or permanent disability may become a necessity.

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  3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
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  5. Daily Life
  6. Dealing with IBS at Work

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