Given that we spend about a third of our day (or even more) at work, it makes sense to take steps to make those eight or so hours as pleasant and productive as possible. This can be pretty hard if you’re suffering from IBD – symptoms can make work contexts feel very awkward, you may need time off during flare-ups and your ‘fussy eating’ and frequent bathroom trips are likely to be noticed by your colleagues. With this in mind, it helps to be proactive and strategic about managing your condition at the office so you can feel secure and confident.
1. Consider coming clean about your condition
Of course, it’s up to the discretion of each individual as to whether they share their health condition with their co-workers. At the very least it’s advisable to let your boss know about your condition, especially if it means you might need more time off or flexible working conditions (such as working remotely during periods of poor health). Some aren’t comfortable discussing their health with those they work with or fear that their IBD may be perceived as a weakness, but people can often surprise you. Sharing your experience may eject the proverbial pink elephant from the room. Your colleagues will be in a better position to be sensitive to your health and understanding of your needs, which – as a person with a chronic health problem – will occasionally be different to theirs.
2. Keep an emergency kit at work
In the event of a dramatic and sudden onset of symptoms you’ll feel far more at ease if you’re prepared. Keep a stash of the important things such as medication, a clean change of clothes and underwear, antacids and disposable wipes somewhere in your office.
3. Don’t fear meetings
If you need to excuse yourself from a meeting or work event it is perfectly reasonable to do so. Even people without IBD need bathroom breaks! If you’re feeling anxious that you might be gone for a while or may need to make repeated trips to loo, it’s fine to just say you feel unwell (even if your workmates don’t know about your condition). We all come down with things from time to time or eat foods that don’t agree with us, simply mention you’re not feeling well and quietly slip out.
4. Manage your diet
It’s important to do your best to manage your symptoms – your diet is fundamental to this. Make sure you eat regularly – don’t get stuck on a deadline or eat convenience foods in between meetings. You need to prepare a tummy-friendly lunch and some snacks and then make time to eat mindfully. Gobbling down a sandwich in 30 seconds is a sure-fire way to kick off indigestion and possibly something much worse.
5. Use space to your advantage
Being close to the bathroom is often top of many Crohn’s and colitis sufferers’ lists when they are out and about. Being at work is no different. See if you can angle for an office, desk or post that has the easiest access to the bathrooms. Explain the reason for your request to your supervisor and they’ll likely be as accommodating as possible in the situation. Being open about your condition with your colleagues would be beneficial in this circumstance – if the office is going to reshuffle, then explaining the reasons behind the change could be the difference between friendly amenability and resentment at being put out.