If hot lava is flowing out of you and someone asked you at that moment “how are your bowels?”, you are limited to saying they’re irritable. You have ‘irritable’ bowel syndrome. There is no stronger language. Even if your bowels are notably more than irritated even, dare I say, enraged. There is no need to water down IBS.
Now, I’ve spoken to some bowels before and sometimes they do snap at you. They are definitely irate. But most people don’t know that hypnotists are bowel whisperers. In a review of the research of hypnosis for IBS (“The Efficacy of Hypnotherapy in the Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis“), hypnosis was demonstrated to be effective at both improving abdominal pain and GI symptoms.
An acquaintance once called me due to gastric distress and pain. I guided her through a hypnosis routine commonly used for IBS (which I’ll detail below), giving suggestions for comfort and relaxation. Afterwards, she was able to tell me that she was feeling significantly better. Before, she was having such bad pain that medication wasn’t touching it and sleep was an impossibility. After, she was much more comfortable and she told me the next day that she was able to go to sleep and wake up feeling even better.
So why is hypnosis good for IBS? IBS is a disruption of your body’s normal digestive system. You have 2 systems in your body: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is your ‘rest and digest’ system. When it’s dominant, your body is calm and is focusing on normal things like smooth digestion. The sympathetic nervous system is your ‘fight or flight’ system. When it’s dominant, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood flow is increased to the muscles, and digestion is disrupted (no need to waste energy smoothly digesting food when you have to run away quickly). This system is dominant whenever you’re stressed because your body thinks it’s in danger and triggers all these reactions to get ready to fight or flight (run away). Hypnosis is used to help people’s parasympathetic nervous system take the reins more, thus allowing smooth digestion to happen by their body’s natural mechanisms.
This is accomplished with hypnosis routines that are very relaxing. They involve enjoyable imagery and suggestions for comfort. The body responds by relaxing, which is done by the parasympathetic nervous system. This skill can then be used by the person during episodes of stomach distress, but also as a way of lowering stress in general. The more you use it, the more it helps. Probably the most common type of visualization is to add a metaphor of smoothness and flow, to help the body ‘smooth’ digestion and let it flow normally. Any scene that involves a flowing river accomplishes this effectively. With my acquaintance, I guided her through a relaxing hike in the mountains where she could enjoy a calmly flowing river. Just like how this smooth, flowing river could be in her head, the smooth flow of the river could be in her body.
If IBS (or even EBS) is disrupting the flow of your life, then give hypnosis a try. While it’s generally easiest to work with a hypnotist in person, you can also do it at home by practicing relaxation, meditation, or listening to relaxation recordings. Practice once a day when you’re feeling relatively good (and not having strong symptoms at the moment) to develop this skill. You can also do it extra times during the day when you do have GI distress for relief.