Managing IBS flare-ups at work

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Jimmy Lee - Research Dietitian, 25 February 2022

Have you ever found it challenging to manage IBS symptoms at work? If you answered yes, please be assured that you are not alone. We have summarised some strategies that may be useful when you experience symptom flare-ups during your 9 to 5s. 


Preparing low FODMAP meals

Preparing a low FODMAP meal does not have to be time-consuming or frustrating. With many recipes available on our website and Monash FODMAP app, we have you covered from breakfast to dinner amidst your busy work schedule. You may also find meal prepping ahead of the week or even using frozen ingredients useful at times. 

If you identify some foods that may trigger symptoms, such as caffeine from coffee, fatty foods or even spicy foods, it is best to avoid them during your work hours. 

There may also be times when you and your colleagues enjoy eating out together during lunch break. Here are some tips for keeping your meal low FODMAP when dining out


Items to keep in handy

Here are some items you may want to keep at your desk for your convenience:

-Peppermint oil capsules

-Heat packs

-An extra few packs of tissue for urgent toilet runs

-Medication prescribed by your doctor

-Some low FODMAP snacks or fruits, such as oranges, green kiwifruits, firm sugar banana and mandarin


Stress management

Deadlines, demands from clients, unexpected priorities…the list goes on for things that make work stressful at times. With psychological factors potentially contributing to IBS symptoms, managing stress may be one of the ways to keep your symptoms at bay. Here are some strategies that you can trial when work gets a little overwhelming:

-Do some light or moderate exercises, or enjoy yoga and pilates with friends after work 

-Do a short walk around the office block or some light stretches during your break time 

-Take some deep breaths when you are feeling anxious at your desk

-Keep a diary in hand to plan and keep track of your work priorities


You may also wish to speak to your healthcare professional about other psychological treatments that may effectively manage IBS.


Work arrangements

If you are debilitated by IBS flare ups, then it could be worthwhile to have a chat to your manager about flexible working arrangements as well as potential sick days. You may have had to take some time off prior to the IBS diagnosis for testing and medical investigations, and you could explain that these health issues are ongoing. For those with jobs that provide sick leave, you are fully entitled to take time off if you are unwell.  Getting a letter from your dietitian or doctor may also help inform your employer about how IBS may affect your work routine. Talking about your symptoms with a trustworthy colleague may also be useful for getting the support you need, such as sharing some of your workloads when your symptoms are severe. 


As working from home is now the ‘new normal’ for many of us, this approach may be useful for balancing symptom management and your work routine. You may wish to adjust your work from home schedule accordingly. When beginning stage two of the diet or ‘reintroduction,’ this can come with symptoms as we determine how much of certain FODMAPs can be tolerated. Asking your employer to work from home on these days can be helpful and reduce the stress around symptoms.  


Remember…

An IBS flare-up is not something to be feeling embarrassed or guilty about. It also does not dismiss all the solid efforts you have made as an employee. As IBS is a condition that is becoming more recognised around the world, we are hoping that more workplaces can create an open and psychologically safe work environment, and offer compassion and respect for the IBS population (1).


References:

  1. Shorey S, Demutska A, Chan V, Siah K. Adults living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): A qualitative systematic review. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2021;140:110289.

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