IBS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Mental Health: The Common Link- Part 2

IBS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Mental Health: The Common Link- Part 2

Published on Thursday, November 30, 2023 by Keydella Fuller

Navigating the Mind-Body Nexus: Insights into IBS, CFS, and Mental Wellness

In part one, we uncovered the complexities of two challenging conditions: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). We discussed their prevalence and difficulty in diagnosing, especially as these conditions belong to the ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ criteria, leaving many undiagnosed and untreated. Now, let's explore the relationship between IBS, CFS, and mental health.

The Mind-Body Connection 

Which came first? Did the stress and anxiety contribute to the symptoms of IBS and CFS, or did these conditions cause the stress and anxiety? When dealing with chronic illnesses, the mind plays an instrumental role in shaping how we perceive ourselves and our conditions. 

Maintaining a strong, positive, and hopeful mindset has proven to help reduce symptoms and enhance overall well-being. Studies have shown that positive mindsets aid in recovery and improve health outcomes. 

The Gut-Brain Connection

Often referred to as the “second brain,” the gut plays a significant role in our mental health. We've all heard about those “happy hormones,” such as serotonin and dopamine, mainly produced in the gut. From there, they travel to the brain to regulate moods, feelings of happiness, and pleasure.

When our gut is imbalanced, so is our brain. Dysbiosis (imbalance in gut bacteria), poor digestion, absorption, constipation, and diarrhea can all wreak havoc on our mental health while damaging the integrity of the gut lining. This, in turn, can worsen IBS symptoms.

What's Stress Got to Do With It? 

Stress is a crucial factor in both IBS and CFS. Chronic and ongoing stress, whether real or perceived, negatively impacts the gut-brain connection. Stress releases stress hormones (insulin and cortisol), which cause an inflammatory process in the body and can contribute to the erosion of the fragile gut lining. Stress changes the gut microbiome, has been linked to exacerbation of symptoms, and even worsens the pain associated with IBS.  

Stress has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks with CFS. This places you at higher risk of gut membrane damage, leading to leaky gut, thus worsening mental health and initiating a cycle of exacerbating physical and emotional symptoms. Additionally, many who live with CFS need to pace themselves not to overstress their body. 

Pain, Pain & More Pain

Pain is a frequent companion for those facing the daily challenges of IBS or CFS and can be a form of stress on the body. Whether it's the abdominal pain, bloating, or constipation pain associated with IBS or the muscle weakness and tenderness seen in CFS, pain becomes an inevitable part of daily life for many people dealing with these conditions. This pain can contribute to negative mindsets, mood disorders, and, in some cases, even depression, thus making the symptoms worse. Finding ways to help alleviate or reduce pain is pivotal in managing symptoms. 

What about Depression?

One area of mental health that needs addressing when dealing with IBS or CFS is depression. Depression can stem from many factors, but I think a significant contributor is the social isolation many feel. Social isolation increases feelings of depression and anxiety and can increase the risk of suicide. 

Many people with IBS or CFS would love to socialize. In fact, in a previous life, some were very active, social, and energetic. Then something happened and then there was a shift for the worse. Could it have been bad food? That viral illness that left you so sick that you feel like you never recovered from it? 

It's More Than Physical Pain

As you can see, dealing with IBS or ME/CFS is more than the physical manifestations of the conditions. The burden often extends to our mental health, and this can contribute to the worsening of IBS and ME/CFS symptoms. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, or thoughts of self-harm, it is crucial to reach out to a healthcare provider and consider seeking counseling. 

There is nothing wrong with receiving a little help; it's something we all need, and nowadays, it’s easier than ever. Several available online platforms now offer mental health and counseling via telemedicine, which may be suitable if you are struggling to get out of bed. 

I want you to know that things can get better. It starts with you really believing in the possibility of improvement/remission and embracing positive self-talk, which leads to better mental health that provides just a little bit of hope rather than sadness and defeat. 

Think of the placebo effect; when participants ‘believe’ they are receiving the experimental treatment, even if it's just a sugar pill, they often report feeling a little better because of a little hope. If you can sincerely believe, deeply and persistently, that you are improving, you may notice some positive improvements. 

The subconscious mind is an innate intelligence that communicates with every cell of our body. It is aware of ailments and dis-ease in the body. It also had the restoration road map- we just need to tap into it.  When you actively visualize a life free from stress, anxiety, pain, IBS, or CFS, there is an opportunity for that to become your reality. 

Come back for part 3, discussing holistic interventions for IBS and CFS. 

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  3. Modgil, R. (2022, September 16). Thinking positively can be good for your body too, not just your brain. BBC Science Focus. Retrieved October 27, 2023, from https://www.sciencefocus.com/news/thinking-positively-can-be-good-for-your-body-too-not-just-your-brain
  4. Tomar, N. (2022). Subconscious Mind and Health. Asian Journal of Nursing Education and Research, 12(2), 245-246. 10.52711/2349-2996.2022.00051  

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