May 13, 2022

IBS and the Workplace: Tips for Returning to the Office

IBS can add a level of complexity to an already busy day at work. We're here to help.

IBS and the Workplace: Tips for Returning to the Office

It’s been a long pandemic, hasn’t it? Many of us have been working from home, but soon it may be time to return to the workplace. It’s one thing to dust off old work outfits and another thing entirely to think about going back into the office…with IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome can add a level of stress and complexity to an already busy workday. Not ideal, but we’re here for you!  

To help, we’ve gathered a lot of ways to be the GOAT at work (even when your IBS isn’t playing along).

Preparing for an in-person workplace…

A productive work day starts with a solid plan for success. Here are a few ideas on how to get ready, starting the evening before work: 

  • Lay out the clothes you’ll be wearing so you won’t need to rush. Pack an extra outfit, just in case
  • Bring a set of medications so they’ll always be at your fingertips
  • Know what you’re going to eat for breakfast. Prep any ingredients that could help speed up your morning.
  • Prep and pack your lunch so it’s ready to go, too
  • Check your work bag. Do you have wet wipes? Do you want to bring cologne or perfume, a body mist, deodorant, or an air freshener? How about underwear liners? If it helps, it’s worth it!
  • Get some great sleep. Cool your bedroom down and lower the shades. Do a few stretches before bed. Play calming music. Try to use mindfulness techniques or focus on positive thoughts as you fall asleep

The Morning Routine 

It’s easy to start the morning with good intentions, but to end up losing a few minutes here, a few there…before you know it, you’re racing for the door. Unfortunately, rushing in the morning can trigger anxiety and IBS symptoms.

Instead, give yourself lots of time. Wake up early and start the morning with a few moments of meditation or deep breathing. You may even try visualization, a powerful technique practiced by many top athletes. To do this, create an image in your mind for exactly how you will control your IBS at work. Imagine yourself in different scenarios. 

For example, what will you do if you start to feel stressed or as though you urgently need to find a bathroom? What will you say if people want to go out for lunch? Or share snacks or treats that trigger your symptoms? 

Picturing these events ahead of time will keep you from being caught off guard if it actually happens. Plan for unanticipated situations, but try not to get caught up in worry or anxiety.  If visualizing causes any anxiety, get up and do something else or redirect your thoughts onto a different path.

Now finish getting ready. Your evening preparation may mean you have some extra time. Can you squeeze in twenty minutes of yoga, stretching, or abdominal exercises to strengthen your core (which can help your digestion)? If not, how about ten minutes? Even five is better than nothing. 

Ready? Off you go!. You can do this. Try to spend your commute encouraging yourself and getting mentally ready.

How to manage your IBS symptoms at work

Having IBS at work is no joke, especially if you’re returning to the office after a long time away. While the office is not as controlled and private as home, there are many ways you can keep IBS from ruining your workday. 

Scout out your workplace. Where is the closest bathroom? How about the most private bathroom? Does your worksite have a single toilet bathroom you can lock?? 

If you have a meeting, try to arrive early enough to claim a seat near the door so you can slip out unobtrusively if you need to. If you’ll be off-site for a long time, make sure you know where the closest Porta-Potties are, or have a plan for where to go, should the need arise. 

At lunch, eat the food you packed, which should help you avoid any unanticipated food triggers. Drink plenty of water. If you can, take a short walk after eating to help your stomach settle. 

If you have a sitting job, a balance ball may help, since you’ll need to make more micro-adjustments to your posture. You may want some tension balls to squeeze if you feel stress ratcheting up. 

See if you can “block” the day into 45-minute or 90-minute sections. Can you space your bathroom visits out this way? Is there any music you can listen to at work that helps you focus, relax, and stay on task? 

How to keep IBS from ruining your job

There is a lot you can do to control IBS at work, but it’s unrealistic to control everything. Anticipating problems ahead of time can make it a lot easier when a problem actually arises. Here are a few other tips:

  • Talk to your supervisor ahead of time, letting them know that you may occasionally need breaks or have to work an adjusted schedule
  • Are there ways you could change your work schedule to better accommodate your IBS? Some people like to show up for work later and work later to compensate, since IBS can be worst in the morning
  • Could you “flex” work, working from home a day or two a week, for more peace of mind and control?
  • What will you do about days that involve pain and discomfort? Could you go home early and offset your hours later? Could your job set up a rest area where people could take a quick break? 
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act may entitle you to reasonable accommodations for dealing with IBS at work. A note from your physician providing medical documentation about your IBS can be a first step toward securing these rights

You will have some great days at work when you’re on top of everything and your IBS doesn’t get you down. You’ll also likely have some tough days. Both kinds of days are normal. The more you can “roll with the punches,” the less you’ll feel controlled by IBS. 

If the worst thing possible happens and you have a humiliating incident or feel you’re not working up to your potential, let yourself have 20 minutes or so to fully feel your disappointment and frustration. Then see if you can move into reassuring yourself, using phrases like “This is so hard. You’re doing your best. Tomorrow will be different.” 

You’re not going to have an embarrassing day every day. Not everyone at work will be noticing or talking about what you’re going through. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to shine. We all have challenges, some of which are invisible. One of your challenges is IBS, and you can support yourself and be kind to yourself despite the inconvenience and frustration of having such a tough condition.

If working away from home with IBS truly doesn’t work for you, there are still options. Some people rearrange their working lives, going freelance or starting their own businesses so they feel more in charge of their IBS. Others switch to part-time or flexible schedules. 

When you get home from work

You made it through another work day. Acknowledge that. Tell yourself ‘Well done!’ even if it feels silly. Look for your wins and look for the things you’ve learned. What can be different tomorrow? 

Now for the rest of the day. A solid eating and exercise foundation definitely helps with IBS management, so see if you can fit in 30 minutes of IBS-friendly movement. Can you make an IBS-compliant dinner? Can you do something to make your day feel a little less stressful, like talking to a friend, doing a hobby, taking a walk, or mentioning things you’re grateful for? 

Like many of us, you may feel tempted to slump onto the couch and order takeout. It was a long day, and you deserve some relaxation. So relax…but only for a while! Then exercise, walk, work on your to-do list, or do something to connect with others. Sitting still too long, paradoxically, can end up making you feel more depressed, anxious, or aimless, and that can lead to social media scrolling, “empty” shopping or TV-watching, video games or other fairly passive activities that don’t actually let you fully calm down, connect with yourself, or feel a sense of useful challenge and achievement. 

It’s true: a working day is hard. It’s also true that the fuller you pack your day with uplifting, engaging things, with exercise, and with supportive food choices, the less you’ll feel stressed and subject to IBS-related problems.

So think about what you did right in your day, focus on that, support yourself with healthy choices, and get ready to have another good day. 

How Salvo Health has your back

Salvo Health is leading the future of digital health with a virtual clinic app that is low-cost and radically accessible for those living with IBS, GERD, SIBO or chronic gut issues. 

When you download our app and become a member with Salvo Health, you get immediate access to a coordinated Salvo Health Care Team, including a certified gastro specialist and board-certified health coach. Your Care Team will communicate with you asynchronously via the app, create a custom Care Plan based on your symptoms, and check in with you regularly to guide your gut health journey. Daily tasks, notifications, quizzes, and helpful articles can also keep you on track when managing your IBS! 

Learn more about Salvo Health today.