Effects of the Pandemic on Digestion and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

It is now possible to look back at some of the effects of the pandemic, beyond the obvious outer social changes, limits on activities, and number of people who became ill. A central aspect of this time has been the repeated call to heighten our awareness of everything around us! What are you doing, who are you around, how close, what’s allowed, what’s not allowed, how do others feel about this? It’s been a lot of sensing.

That dramatic increase in awareness towards the outside has also, predictably, heightened awareness of our own bodies–it’s hard to not be more aware of the whole outside world and not also have that sensitivity wash over onto ourselves. That awareness most commonly centers around our “boundary organs.” These would include things like skin, lungs, stomach, bladder and large intestine. Those are all places where we are either regularly meeting and taking in the outside world, or releasing substance to the outside world. We are routinely aware of these organs, but usually only for a small amount of the time, for specific parts of the day. We think about our stomach when we are hungry, our bladder when we need to urinate, etc. One prominent place we can see this pandemic effect of heightened awareness is with irritable bowel syndrome.

That wash over effect of heightened awareness shows up physiologically in different ways. Pain, itching, greater sensitivity, are the most common ones. In the gut, the effect of greater consciousness is quite often pain, cramping and urgency. It’s not surprising that a lot of people experienced an increase in irritable bowel symptoms during the pandemic, with more complaints of pain, cramping and bloating. A recent report on NPR talks about the importance and advantages of a holistic approach for IBS, especially at this time. A good therapeutic approach for irritable bowel syndrome includes shifting away from foods that tend to be irritating and working on ways to consciously let go of stress and excessive awareness (through meditation, relaxation exercises). It’s lovely to see broad excitement and confirmation of the power of holistic approaches!

We find that anthroposophic medicines, compresses, and rhythmical massage add even greater support. Some people in the practice have reported obvious reductions in IBS symptoms very quickly (within a couple days) after starting an anthroposophic course of treatment. There is a lot of good work that can be done for effectively supporting problems with “boundary organ imbalances.”

Be well,
Dr. Blanning

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