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Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS as it’s often known, is a condition of the digestive system, with symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, constipation and feeling bloated.
According to the Gastroenterological Society, IBS affects 1 in 5 Australians at some point in their lives. Its exact causes are unclear but we do know that IBS can be triggered or exacerbated by prolonged periods of stress.
The pain and discomfort of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and the fact that it’s hard to predict when you will experience a flare-up can really interfere with your quality of life, and many people find it an upsetting and stressful condition to deal with.
Research on the efficacy of hypnosis for Irritable Bowel Syndrome While there is no single cure for IBS, there are a variety of treatment options, and hypnosis is one of them. A large number of studies have verified that hypnosis can be highly effective in alleviating the symptoms of IBS, and what’s more, in contrast to other treatments, hypnosis has no side effects.
In a 2001 study at the University of Manchester in England, two hundred and fifty patients with IBS were given twelve sessions of hypnotherapy and when they were interviewed five years later, seventy-one per cent of them reported lasting improvement in their condition.
Hypnosis can help with Irritable Bowel Syndrome in a number of ways. Firstly, regular deep relaxation counteracts the stress response. When you’re under stress as a result of worries or pressures in your life, the brain perceives that there is a threat to your safety, and it switches on the fight or flight response, just as it might do if you came across a snake when you were bush walking. When this happens, your adrenal glands release adrenaline which switches on certain responses in the body such as sweating, faster breathing and accelerated heart rate, which is gearing you up for the action you need to escape from danger.
This emergency response also switches off other responses that are non-essential for survival in the short term, functions such as sex drive, immune function and digestion because these are not critical to survival in the moment.
Maladaptive response to prolonged, chronic stress This is no problem in the short term but if you feel stressed for prolonged periods of time, for example have difficulty slowing down a racing mind or find it hard to get to sleep at night, your adrenal glands will be constantly interfering with your digestion.
So what was a highly effective adaptive response – switching off non-essential functions for short-term survival, becomes a maladaptive response as the function of the digestive and reproductive systems is impaired. You can see why Irritable Bowel Syndrome and stress are so directly linked.
The benefits of relaxation and positive expectations When you relax deeply you counteract the emergency response. Your immune system works better and your stomach and intestines get the oxygen they need in order to function properly. Deep relaxation is the antidote to on-going stress. This is why hypnosis is so effective at relieving the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Hypnosis for a range of auto-immune/inflammatory conditions Hypnosis has been used for many years to help manage pain, accelerate healing and to calm down inflammatory conditions of all kinds, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome. For example, when people intensely visualise their immune system working well, by picturing healthy, strong white blood cells fighting off small, weak germs and bacteria, their white blood cell count measurably increases. With hypnosis and visualisation we can learn to directly influence our own bodies, including alleviating the discomfort of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.