Picture this: You're a regular once-a-day pooper (or even twice a day, if you're feeling productive). And yet every time you leave home for an extended period of time, you find yourself completely unable to go to the bathroom.
One day passes, then two, then three, then four. Pretty soon, instead of enjoying your long-awaited beach vacation, all you can think about is whether you'll ever have a bowel movement again. Your life stretches before you like a bleak, poop-less tundra. You feel empty inside, except you're also very full.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you might be one of the many people who struggle to poop when they're on vacation. Yes, this is a thing; and yes, it's pretty common, says Dr. David Poppers, gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health. "It's likely your neighbour, your friend, or family member has a similar issue and just doesn’t talk about it."
So why the hell does vacation-induced constipation (heretofore known as VIC) always rear its ugly head — and what can you do about it? Poppers gave Men's Health some helpful advice on staying as regular as possible when you travel away from home.
Constipation can happen for a number of reasons — and one of them is stress.
"There is a tremendous interaction between the central nervous system — the brain, the spinal cord — and the so-called 'small brain' of the gut, called the enteric nervous system," he explains.
If you're stressed about travel — the planning, the packing, the flight — it could register in your enteric nervous system, "which can affect the regularity of bowel movements, as well as cause gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort," Poppers says.
Relaxation techniques like yoga and mindfulness can help.
It can also happen because you're eating and drinking differently on vacation.
"We know fibre intake can be important for being regular and good stool consistency, and that can change when one's traveling," Poppers says.
A lack of fluids could also be affecting your poop schedule. "A lot of people will alter their consumption of alcohol and caffeine, sometimes to deal with the time changes associated with travel across time zones," Poppers says, adding that those beverages can be dehydrating. "That also can affect the regularity of bowel movements."
Jet lag seriously screws with your sleep cycle.
Sleep, or lack thereof, can affect your health in a number of ways. When you're getting enough of it, it "helps keep you more regular and decreases a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms and complaints," Poppers says.
When you travel, the resulting changes to your body's clock — also known as your circadian rhythm — can have a "dramatic effect" on your ability to poop on schedule, Poppers says.
Make sure you get an adequate amount of sleep prior to traveling — not just during your trip. When you've arrived at your destination, try to sync up with the local time as quickly as you can. Some people opt to use melatonin or other sleep aids, but you should consult your physician before making that decision. Others find that stool softeners and gentle laxatives can be helpful, especially in those first few days when you're getting adjusted to your new environment.
Overall, you should try the best you can to maintain your "general lifestyle routines," Poppers says. That includes keeping up with your regular exercise regimen.
Constipation is "nothing to be embarrassed about," Poppers says. "In general it's very treatable, and it can have a dramatic improvement in your quality of life — not just while traveling."
This article originally appeared on Men's Health