If You Have IBS, This App Could Seriously Make You Feel Better

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I’m standing in an old-timey pharmacy, filled with the heady, spicy scent of herbs. Rows of glass vials gleam on shelves above sunlit mahogany counters — and one of them is labeled with my name. I take a sip, and feel the contents of the vial slide into my stomach, coating everything in a soothing, protective layer. “This medicine is doing you so much good,” says a calm female voice. The voice tells me how much the contents of the vial are helping my stomach symptoms, then counts from one to five. I open my eyes. The pharmacy drops away, replaced by the familiar sight of my living room. The voice, playing from my headphones, welcomes me back. “I hope you’re feeling refreshed and awake, and enjoyed your first hypnotherapy session,” it says.

Welcome to Nerva.

What is Nerva?

Nerva is an app, available for iOS and Android, that’s designed to address and improve uncomfortable gut symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). My time in an imaginary pharmacy was simply part of the program, the first of many daily hypnotherapy sessions intended to help you improve the brain-gut connection since miscommunication between the brain and gut can be an underlying trigger for IBS. I know it might sound bizarre, but this stuff can be really effective, and it’s backed by science — a 2016 study found that IBS sufferers experienced a 72% improvement in symptoms as a result of gut-directed hypnotherapy (similar to the effects of the low FODMAP diet, but without the food restrictions), and a 2003 study showed that the beneficial effects of hypnotherapy on IBS can last for up to five years. According to the app, 89% of Nerva users (more than 50,000 of them) have seen significant health improvements, which isn’t too shabby! The best part is it’s low effort and doesn’t involve saying goodbye to the foods you love to eat; each daily Nerva session takes around 20 minutes and involves hypnotherapy, reading, and sometimes breathing exercises — but never dieting or medication.

How does Nerva work?

Before your Nerva journey begins, you’re asked to take an online assessment quiz that enables you to provide information about your symptoms, the treatments you’ve tried, and your personal treatment goals. The quiz also breaks down some of Nerva’s underlying concepts, like the gut-brain connection, and explains how gut-directed hypnotherapy works. At the end of your assessment, you can find out whether your responses indicate that you’re a good fit for the program. At this point, you can also download the app to get started for real.

Nerva begins with a six-week core program that involves daily use of the app. Each day, the app offers a hypnotherapy session and a short educational reading about IBS and IBS treatments, and sometimes breathing exercises, all of which take about 20 minutes in total. You can set the app to send phone alerts at a specific time each day so you don’t forget to do your Nerva session (the program works best when you’re reasonably consistent). Nerva is $2.87 per week ($149 annually if you choose not to cancel) but if you sign up through Bustle, you can get your first week free and 30% off your subscription. That brings your weekly cost down to $2 and your annual cost to just over $109. After six weeks, the program is complete, and you switch to Nerva’s maintenance plan, which is a bit more flexible than the core program but still involves new hypnotherapy sessions and support to help keep you feeling your best.

According to Mindset Health, the company behind Nerva, most users will notice an improvement in symptoms within the first four weeks of the program, though experiences will vary. The app even mentions that the results of gut-directed hypnotherapy can last for a long time, potentially up to five years.

What is it like to use Nerva?

I only signed up for Nerva a week ago, and full disclosure: I’ve never received an IBS diagnosis. However, my sister has IBS and is on her sixth week of the program. When I give her a call to ask about her experience, she has a lot to say. “I love this app,” she enthuses. She tells me the hypnotherapy portion of Nerva (which we both agree feels more like a guided meditation than anything else) is structured in a way that she finds soothing. She explains that the app actually repeats the relaxation and hypnotherapy sequences a lot, which is something she really likes. “The hypnosis is always familiar, so it’s very calming. There aren’t any surprises.” She says she even thinks it’s been helping her sleep.

My sister also tells me that she’s found the educational readings to be genuinely cool and useful. For example, she says, “The most powerful thing for me has been learning about how to calm yourself down if you’re having a flare-up. Like, if your stomach hurts, and you start to worry about developing additional symptoms that will ruin your day, you recognize that your fears are thoughts, not the reality of what’s going to happen.”

This all sounds positive, but I really want to know if Nerva has helped with her IBS symptoms since it almost seems too good to be true. “For what it’s worth,” she says, “I can’t be sure why, but my stomach has been better this month than it’s been in years.”

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