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Dealing with IBD at Work: 5 Tips

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The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can make it hard to go out in public. The worry about urgency and finding a bathroom when you need it can cause a lot of anxiety. Most patients would agree that the most comfortable place to be during a flare-up is home.

But when you work outside the home, you may feel like you have little control over how you address your symptoms. Diarrhea, abdominal pain, and urgency can’t be scheduled. So long workdays, meetings, and dealing with coworkers or customers can add to the anxiety already surrounding your symptoms. And when symptoms do strike, it can be disruptive and embarrassing.

Whether you’re newly diagnosed or starting a new job, you can reduce some of your stress by analyzing your workplace and planning around your IBD:

Analyze your situation

Thinking ahead about how your symptoms might affect your workday can help you plan for every situation. Are there adequate bathroom facilities available? Will frequent bathroom breaks be noticeable or disruptive to your job? Will you need time off for particularly intense flare-ups? For treatment?

If your symptoms are well-controlled, you might get by just knowing where the bathrooms are. But if not, you may need to talk to your company’s human resources department or your supervisor about your condition.

Ask for accommodations before you need them

By law, employers must make accommodations for employees with disabilities. This means you have protection if you have limitations, including for digestion and bowel issues. If you’ve determined that you will need accommodations, like a flexible schedule, a workspace closer to the bathrooms, or time off for treatment, talk to your employer’s human resources department or employee assistance program (EAP).

Ask about flexible hours

The growing trend in telecommuting means more employers are comfortable with flexible arrangements than ever before. Flexible hours might be easier on your digestive system, and work-from-home options could mean you work around your symptoms in the comfort of your own home. Even if your employer doesn’t agree to a full-time work-from-home arrangement, they may allow you to work from home during a flare-up.

Plan for the unplannable

You can’t predict the timing of a flare-up, but you can keep an emergency kit at work or in your car to deal with the unexpected. Supplies to keep on hand might include snacks, medications, a change of clothes, a package of wet wipes, a large ziplock bag for soiled clothing, air freshener, ostomy supplies, hand sanitizer, and a bottle of water. You’ll feel better knowing you’re prepared.

Manage workplace stress

Stress can trigger symptoms. Try to avoid situations that cause stress; for example, don’t procrastinate when you have a deadline. Learn relaxation techniques like mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises to help manage stressful situations you can’t control.

Managing IBD in the workplace does come with some challenges but facing them head-on now means you won’t be caught unprepared by your symptoms. Plan now and check that off your to-do list. You’ll thank yourself later.

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