8 Social-Life Tips for IBS-D

Medically Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on February 03, 2016
4 min read

Just when she should've been enjoying life the most, Amber Vesey reached her lowest point.

By the time she was in college, the irritable bowel syndrome she'd been diagnosed with at 15 was sending her to the hospital over and over again. It morphed into the type of the disease that comes with diarrhea (IBS-D) and then settled into IBS-mixed, which also includes constipation. 

She couldn't go out because she had to use the bathroom so often. She even had to have private conversations with professors so they'd know why she kept running out of class.

"I was only in my early 20s. I thought, 'I'm not supposed to be miserable. I'm not supposed to be in on a Friday night because I can't leave the apartment,'" Vesey says.

Things are different for her today. She's learned ways to keep her condition from running her life.

"I embrace it as opposed to seeing it as a negative," she says. "I've found out what works for me."

You can take control of your life, too, when you have IBS-D. With a few lifestyle tweaks and a little planning, you'll be off to a great start.

1. Know where the bathrooms are.

Whenever she goes to a party these days, Vesey first considers whether there'll be a bathroom.

Not only is this common sense, it helps relieve the anxiety which often makes IBS symptoms worse.

Download one of the many apps that pinpoint nearby bathrooms. You should also check to see if your state is one of more than a dozen that has passed "Ally's Law." This "restroom access" legislation requires retail businesses to let people with bowel disorders use their bathrooms.

If your state is not on the list, just say you have a "chronic medical condition."  

2. Plan your route.

In case you need a bathroom before you get to where you're going, find out where rest stops are along the way. There are apps out there that can show you. Take into account highway driving ("How long before the next exit or rest area?") as well as tolls.

And leaving early lets you take a detour without fretting too much.

3. Bring your own food.

About two-thirds of people with IBS say their symptoms start or get worse when they eat, says William Chey, MD, director of the Gastrointestinal Behavioral and Nutrition Wellness Program at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.

That means eating out, especially at restaurants, can be a minefield. One solution is to take your own food.

If you have to order off a menu, keep it simple.

"Steamed vegetables, sautéed chicken breasts in olive oil -- most restaurants will have options like that," Chey says.

4. Eat before you go out.

Even if you're taking your own food, it's a good idea to have several small meals before you leave.

Some people with IBS-D avoid food before an outing. But that means when you do eat, your body may overreact.

Having a regular eating schedule helps some people with their symptoms.

5. Carry extra supplies.

Accidents can happen even with the best planning. The right move is to be prepared.

Vesey always carries wet wipes and potpourri spray in her bag. Tissue or toilet paper is also a good idea. Some people even have a change of clothing, especially underwear, with them at all times.

"Being prepared is huge," Chey says.

6. Spend time with supportive people.

A lot of folks have faulty or unfair notions about IBS partly because no one is sure what causes it. That's why it's important to hang out with people who do understand what you're going through.

You may need to spend a little energy educating others.

Jeffrey Lackner, PsyD, a professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo, describes IBS as "faulty wiring between your brain and your gut." That may help people accept your condition.

Not only will this help on specific occasions, but it can ease symptoms all the time.

"Not having support is a little like driving a car without a bumper," Lackner says.

7. Don't avoid social situations.

As tempting as it might be to stay in your comfort zone, that could backfire by making you more afraid over time. Your comfort zone could shrink, leaving you feeling isolated.

Relaxation exercises and meditation can ease anxiety, and they have an added benefit with irritable bowel syndrome: Studies have shown that both activities reduce symptoms.

This can also end the cycle of symptoms leading to anxiety and vice-versa.

8. Pay attention to your body.

Start by tracking your triggers, your symptoms, and your reactions to your symptoms. This will make an unpredictable condition a little more manageable and let you control where you go and when.

Use worry to solve problems rather than just dwell on them.

"There's no simple fix or cure, and the responsibility for being able to manage [IBS-D] is really not going to come through in a bottle," Lackner says. "The decisions you make on a day-to-day basis are incredibly empowering."