How to Survive in School When You Have IBS

It can be challenging to go to school with a disruptive digestive disorder such as IBS.

The normal first-day excitement may be overshadowed by feelings of anxiety and dread. The nature of IBS symptoms may trigger understandable concerns about the ability to get to school on time, sit calmly through class, and feel well enough to complete school assignments.

But there are smart strategies you can use to manage school and your IBS, so you can maximize your comfort and do well in your studies.

Talk to a School Counselor

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Most schools offer free counseling sessions. Make an appointment with your school guidance counselor and initiate a relationship. This will help you feel as if you have a trusted ally close at hand.

The counselor can help you to navigate your way through your dealings with other staff members, such as teachers and professors, who may not be as sensitive to your health difficulties.

On a more practical note, many students with IBS have found it comforting to be able to use the restroom in the guidance counselor or nurse's office.

Get a 504 Plan

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If necessary, you could look into the possibility of having a 504 plan drawn up. This legal protection comes to you from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and is designed to protect people who have disabilities from discrimination. IBS is considered to be a qualifying condition for protection under this act.

A 504 plan will ensure that you will receive any needed accommodations to perform to your potential. You can get special access to restrooms, modified class schedules, and even modified school assignments—whatever will help you to perform to your potential.

Tell a Few Close Friends

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Social support is critical when dealing with chronic illness. Don’t let the nature of IBS symptoms make you feel too embarrassed to talk to your friends about what you are dealing with. The stress of covering up symptoms can serve to worsen your condition. Pick a few of your most trusted friends and educate them about your needs.

Take note of the word "trusted." Not every person will be kind or sensitive. Some people may even betray your confidence and broadcast your situation to others. Assess the "trustworthiness" of your friends before taking them into your confidence.

Eat Carefully

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School cafeterias often serve fatty, greasy foods—foods that pose the risk of overstimulating the gastrocolic reflex, resulting in painful abdominal cramping and the urgent need to empty our bowels.

In many cases, it may be wiser to prepare and pack your own food.

Keep Your Body Calm

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Offset the stress of school through the use of active relaxation strategies. Many people have found that a regular meditation or yoga practice results in a calmer body. You can also teach yourself relaxation skills to use throughout your school day.

Pace Yourself

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As you probably well know, there is a link between IBS and stress. Being stressed out can make your IBS symptoms worse. Therefore, try to manage your school responsibilities in a calm, planned-out way.

Don't overdo things when feeling well — but don't leave things for the last minute either. Try to organize your workload in a way that reduces any feelings of being overwhelmed.

Don't Try to Be Perfect

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Many people who have IBS try extra hard to be seen in a positive light by others. Not only is this pressure undeserved (After all, who has total control over their body?), but it puts additional stress on the body and mind, which could then worsen symptoms.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.