The power of stress: do not underestimate it! - a personal journey


Everyone goes through stressful times.” “Come on, don’t take it to heart.” “You are not alone. We have been there, we understand.”

“You seem stressed out. Why don’t you try meditation?”


Does this sound familiar? Haven’t you heard these statements before? While people may think they are trying to empathize and offer solutions, the truth is, that it is impossible to generalize the impact stress can have on an individual. Be it, physical, mental, or even beyond at times. It can catch you unawares and take you on a whirlwind ride!


Here is a diary of one woman describing her journey with IBS, urinary incontinence, and stress.

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The Beginnings


I was just then receiving appreciation from the family for handling a health emergency with poise and calm. But, before I was even back in my den, I could feel dull pressure in the lower abdomen, which became frequent over the following weeks and painful at times. On some days, the pain was focused at one point, while on others, it was spread over the abdomen but intense enough to even wake me up at midnight. Moreover, I could feel my bowel movement more prominently than usual. This was intimidating and I could not concentrate even to get my daily routine or mundane chores done.


The prominent pain location suggested that there could be multiple underlying conditions (Thanks to Lord Google!). Panic mode on!!



Fear of the Unknown - Stressed induced IBS


The fear of the unknown had engulfed me. I was visibly lost, frustrated 24*7 and anxious. Yet, I was not ready to go for a diagnosis, arguing that the pain wasn’t intense enough for medical intervention and all sorts of excuses. Worst of all, I started overeating assuming that it might ease the bowel movement. Sadly, I only ended up with a few more pounds, which led to extreme fatigue, further worsening the situation. Little did I know it was a vicious cycle!





Thankfully, about a month later, I was dragged to a specialist and found the answer to the zillion questions in my head-it was stress-induced IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) powered by anxiety! Besides a few drugs, I was prescribed stress management strategies.



 

Research shows that IBS has been reported more in women than men (2-2.5:1), especially with greater pain, as well as stress- and constipation-related symptoms. This disparity in severity of the disease is attributed to the gut-brain axis, which is influenced by differences in sex hormones, stress response, gut microbiome, and psychological factors.

 



Moreover, I was asked to cut down on dairy as it is a prominent culprit of discomfort in IBS patients. But this did not work well in my case. While the IBS pain was subsiding, within 2 weeks of following a no-dairy diet, I had multiple episodes of tingling, pricking and burning sensations (popularly known as ‘pins and needles’), especially in my legs. I did my research (this time mindful of the daunting online content) and figured out that vitamin deficiency and weight gain could possibly be the cause. A vegetarian diet minus dairy can potentially lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency, which is well-known to cause such neurological symptoms. I resumed dairy but with caution and things got better.






Urinary Incontinence added to the mix


Just when I thought I was seeing the end of the tunnel, my bowel frequency was reduced to once in 2 days (termed IBS-C; with constipation) accompanied by urinary incontinence (urgency incontinence). This was my breaking point, but I pushed myself to take charge of the situation.


Though my doctor had ordered only stool analysis till then, upon my persistence, he allowed me to go for CT-scan to eliminate other conditions (read ‘more for my mental health’ since I was going crazy handling a spectrum of symptoms at once). I breathed peace finally and started prioritising myself more than I ever have.



IBS related Dietary and lifestyle changes


CONSISTENCY, PATIENCE and MINDFULNESS were key. Here are some things that helped me get back on track in 4-5 months (yes, healing takes time!):


  1. High dietary fiber [millets, brown rice, salads (as a meal), fruits, seeds]

  2. Increased water intake

  3. Eliminating gassy vegetables [mainly cabbage in my case]

  4. High protein food [pulses, legumes, egg, and cottage cheese]

  5. Caffeine is strictly post-meal and not on an empty stomach

  6. A consistent fitness regimen [cardio and strength training thrice/ week, walking other days]

  7. Stringent sleep routine [minimum of 7 h with no compromise and not delaying bedtime]

  8. BELIEVING IN MYSELF AND NOT GIVING UP

  9. Family support

  10. Mindful relaxation

  11. Minimizing/ outsourcing stressful chores

  12. NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT PRIORITIZING MY HEALTH



Handling Urinary Incontinence


Despite this, urinary incontinence was here to stay longer than I had imagined. It was the toughest of all to manage, especially since I could not afford to reduce water consumption and it caused sleep disturbances.


Travel was a challenge during this period. However, PeeBuddy by PeeSafe rescued me on many occasions and was truly a friend when I was in need. It took me one year of consistent exercising and weight reduction to get rid of this.


For incontinence, one can try Pristine life panties or bladder control pads such as Abena.



 

Urinary incontinence in women can occur due to weight gain and along with several conditions involving the pelvic organs, such as endometriosis, pregnancy, neural conditions and hormonal changes during menopause. This is primarily because all the pelvic organs are held in place by the pelvic floor muscles, which when weakened can affect the urinary bladder or the muscles around it.
 


Pelvic Floor Muscles


Therefore, strengthening the pelvic muscles helps alleviate the situation in most cases. Along with strengthening the core through fitness routines like Pilates, in recent years, several devices that aid pelvic floor strengthening are available in the market.



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Key Takeaways


I am still a work in progress. But these are my key take-aways from last year:


  1. Stress can affect health in ways you can never imagine.

  2. The GUT-BRAIN AXIS IS REAL. The physical manifestations of mental problems are termed psycho-somatic conditions.

  3. While you are helping someone go through a crisis, remember to take care of yourself.

  4. DO NOT SELF-DIAGNOSE based on health information you consume. Medical professionals are irreplaceable and you can’t become one overnight.

  5. There is no magic cure for gut-related issues. Small consistent steps work.

  6. Your body does not heal as quickly as it used to, say 5 years back. Be kind to yourself.

  7. When things become overwhelming, do not hesitate to ask for help- medical or emotional.

 



Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.


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