Failures and challenges in life are inevitable. In fact, you never would have learned how to put on your clothes without experiencing some sort of defeat in the process (as I watched my preschooler today stick both his legs through the same pant hole, making multiple attempts in a row trying to get his pants on before he waved the white flag and asked for my help).
If you are waiting for motivation to just naturally arise through the frustration, you will be waiting awhile before you get yourself back on track. I recently read a quote “Struggles not only make us into stronger, better and wiser people, they also let us learn more about ourselves and our purpose in life” – Auliq Ice This really resonated with me, especially after the trauma I experienced over the past 4 months. Challenging times can break a person or make them stronger, I chose the latter and as I’ve learned, it’s all about perspective. This post will talk about how to help increase motivation when struggling with IBS.
Trauma and Irritable Bowel Syndrome
It started in November 2021 when I had to undergo knee surgery after putting an abundance of wear-and-tear miles on my joints through competitive dance and basketball. Around Christmas time, my family got a pretty severe stomach flu, which caused my son who was 3 at the time to develop mesenteric lymphadenitis. I was up with my son every night between 2A – 3A to help him throw up while also suffering from severe abdominal cramping for a month. It still breaks my heart seeing the image in my head of him saying “mommy, please, I don’t want to be sick anymore.”
About two days after he recovered and I went back to work, we all contracted COVID. Out of everyone in my family, I got hit the hardest. I started to develop heart attack symptoms, pain down my left arm, my chest felt like someone lit me on fire, and my heart rate skyrocketed to 150 bpm waking me up from a dead sleep. The really sad part is that it took 4 trips to the ER and me, literally begging for my life to have a doctor finally take me seriously. I kept being sent home saying, “you are a long hauler, you just have to get over it.”
Turns out after a 3 day hospital stay, I actually had myocarditis, which caused a scarring on my heart and inflammation. I also had a massive stomach ulcer that developed from the steroids the doctors kept giving me. When it is all said and done, it will take me a year to recover fully from myocarditis with strict activity restrictions. I took the news pretty hard at first, especially for someone that also struggles with anxiety.
Overcoming Labels when Struggling with IBS
What causes stress and anxiety exactly? Well, a person will feel stress when you perceive an event as something that endangers your sense of identity and you don’t feel you have the resources to handle it. How you appraise a problem and the emotions you place on that belief will create your reality. One’s perception of control over life events can influence the amount of impact that it will have on an individual.
Struggling with IBS for years, I know that the more stress I perceive to have, the more IBS symptoms I will have. Speaking of which, if you need extra support with stress management, see my post here.
To give you some background, I used to be 100 pounds overweight. In order to lose weight long term, I changed my identity. I labeled myself as an athlete and leader in the health and wellness industry.
Being a dietitian, my career is built around being in shape. Let’s be blunt, people judge your skills as a nutrition coach based on your appearance. How was I going to compete with the other dietitians that look amazing with their six pack abs and showing off how strong they are in the gym?
My entire sense of livelihood was being threatened, which produced a lot of anxiety for me. I believed that I would not be able to stay in shape if I was not able to lift heavy weights and incorporate HIIT training on a routine basis. That is how I was able to lose so much weight and keep it off. I’m not a naturally thin person, it is something I have worked at for years.
I created a set of rules for myself to keep me in my safe zone. My self limiting belief was if I couldn’t work out 5 – 6 days a week, then I would gain weight again and my career would suffer for it. What labels have you placed on yourself when struggling with IBS symptoms? Maybe it is how irritable bowel syndrome is ruining your life? What would it feel like if that label was removed?
Rewrite your Story to Calm IBS Anxiety
I was placed on medical leave from work for a month while I recovered from my hospital visit. I had a lot of time on my hands to think. I learned that there were a lot of rules that I had created for myself that were no longer working for me.
It helps to look at those limiting beliefs you have created for yourself, you know the ones, those thoughts that are blocking you from your goals and ask yourself, “Is this true? Like, really really true?” When I asked myself that question around exercise, I discovered that I was not actually doing heavy workouts because I enjoyed them, I did them because that is what I thought I had to do to stay in shape for my career.
So….when you ultimately experience a setback, I recommend you go through the process of rewriting your story. For example, you may be thinking “irritable bowel syndrome is a disability that is ruining my life.” What would it take for you to create a new perception of that story where you can attach a positive emotion to it?
Life experiences and our external environment are a part of a person’s unique personality and behavior. Psychological theory states people have the ability to construct their own reality through self-fulling prophecy (1).
Here are some ideas on how to rewrite your story for the better:
- Don’t envy other people – look at it as motivation for what is possible.
- Decide what it is that you want, put your energy behind that decision and don’t give yourself any other option.
- Choose an identity that fits within your core values
- Assess what it is you really really want. Do not confuse this with something you think you want based on other people’s opinions that you have chosen to believe.
- Once you find that identity that aligns with your values, ask yourself what it is that person is doing?
- Why do you think you can’t be that person? Is that true? Is that really really true?
- Come up with a new mantra or positive affirmation for yourself to replace your limiting beliefs (2).
- Repeat this mantra every morning before getting out of bed, it sets the intention for the rest of the day.
Daily affirmations can decrease stress, increase well-being, improve academic performance and make people more open to behavior change. Affirmations confirm one’s self worth and help them refocus on their core values. Affirmations broaden an individual’s perspective and reduce negative emotions. They help to lessen reactivity to a stressful event and activates the reward center of the brain to create a more positive association to a negative situation.
Maybe your new story for living with IBS is, “I recognize that in life, nothing is permanent. I deserve a life filled with happiness and love. I am in the process of healing my irritable bowel symptoms for good. I only treat myself with the utmost compassion, kindness and love. I have the power to be who I want to be. I can’t do everything today, but I can take one small step.”
How Did I Cultivate Self-Motivation?
Every morning, I started my day with the following, “My body knows how to heal itself, and it is doing so even now. I honor my body’s wisdom by trusting the signals that it sends.” I then looked at what resources I had available to me and got outside my comfort zone.
Instead of doing nothing, I walked the dogs every day, practiced yoga and pilates when my body was up for it, being mindful to not get my heart rate up. I’m about 4 months into my recovery and although I am not as tone as I used to be, I have maintained my weight and have more energy, less back pain and more flexibility than I ever have.
It turns out I actually love yoga and pilates. Like, really, really love it. It helps me handle stress better and be less reactive in situations. Slowing down has actually made me a better, more attentive spouse and mother. I choose to see my setbacks as an opportunity to get more in tune with my body and I am stronger because of it.
Are you ready to wave the white flag and get help with managing your irritable bowel symptoms so you can get your life back? Check out my Food is Strength Program here. I look forward to seeing you there.