When I first became a coach I worked with people who were stressed about their career. When I coach people who are dealing with a lot of stress I ask them to go into their bodies and notice where they feel stress or tension. I typically get one of two responses; either “can’t find anything”or they find aches and pains that they never knew were there. They often want to run back into their minds and discuss all of their life stresses.
I simply told them for one week try stopping once a day and notice what you are thinking and how it feels in your body. Without fail, they all came back to the next session with the realization that they are holding tension, for many in their stomach.
For people with IBS, they are very aware that there is a problem in their stomach and but sometimes don’t recognize when stress is making it worse. For many years I handled many of my life stresses my stuffing it into my stomach which of course made my IBS worse.
Looking back I realized even as a child I held all of my emotional pain in my stomach. As a survivor of a stressful childhood, I spent many days of my childhood constipated. By high school I remember waking up to a green tongue, the side effect of taking Tums throughout the night. The funny thing is I never thought much of my stomach problems or what they were trying to tell me, probably because I was just too busy surviving. Additionally, maintaining my calm, perfectionist persona occupied a lot of my time.
Always trying to do the right thing, I did go to my doctors about it but they never found anything.
As I headed into adulthood I kept my pattern of ignoring my pain and my emotions as well. No matter what was thrown at me during those years I just kept pushing forward. Though this took a great amount of effort, but since I was ignoring the effects on my body, I tended not to notice.
By my mid-twenties, stuck in a job I didn’t like and adding to the pressure by getting a master’s degree while working, my stomach went nuts. Pain, discomfort and constipation. I checked it out with my doctors they said it was IBS and I barely acknowledged it, took some fiber drinks and kept pushing ahead. Again ignoring the message my body was trying to give me.
At one point I was given a prescription for the IBS and it seemed to work well. Even after I stopped taking it I felt somewhat normal. Just a function of my body, not my mind, I told myself. I still would experience it for small time periods, but then it would leave.
After a particularly bad bout of IBS, I found myself back at the doctor’s office this time needing surgery. My “not so bad” constipation problem had actually become a huge problem over time making it increasingly painful to go to the bathroom. Even after the surgery I found myself waking up the next day with my let’s get up and do something attitude. I hardly remember resting.
I actually can’t define when I began to take notice of the messages from my stomach; it was a gradual thing for me. But suddenly I started to feel my emotions and when I felt them it was directly through my stomach. I could feel the tension, the racing feeling like something was trapped in there, what felt like squiggly worms trying to force their way out. I began just to acknowledge it, for the first time not ignoring it or fighting it.
Then I began to visualize a plant growing in the place of the worms, the plant turning into soft rose petals that were soothing my stomach and moving around my whole torso. This helped me not to jump into a state of resistance. I immediately felt calm and peaceful.
Still I would go through bouts of bloating and discomfort. I would go to my stomach doctor to confirm it was just the IBS. Then I would try different ways to get rid of it. Water, special foods, nothing worked.
Until I began sitting down with my emotions.
I didn’t intentionally sit down with the intent to lessen my bloating and stomach discomfort by writing about my emotions. I simply just began writing down everything that was bothering me. Every argument with a family member, every memory from the past, every feeling of random jealousy when I knew I should be happy for someone. I just wrote it all down without judgment on myself. Then I began to notice that after writing my stomach discomfort left. I felt my emotions, I released them through writing and then my body responded. I felt like I found gold!!
Am I perfect with a perfectly functioning digestive track? No. But I now recognize when I am holding something in. I am aware when I am avoiding things. I am also aware that I can’t force my body to do anything. I can just be myself, have my feelings and give them a voice. It’s that sense of freedom that allows my body to feel free to be itself and work like it was meant to.