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Dealing with Crohn's or UC Fatigue

We hear from community members often about the frustrations around fatigue. It's such a common and life-altering symptom of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. We asked our community advocates to share tips on how they handle fatigue.

How do you handle Crohn's or UC fatigue?

Plenty of rest

Matt: I handle fatigue by getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids, and giving myself sufficient alone time to recuperate. Another obvious strategy is to take a nap. It can really help! Finally, if it is really bothering me and I feel down on my luck, I will reach out to friends and family and talk about it. Just getting my frustrations off my chest can really help me cope better with feeling all that fatigue.

Pay attention to energy levels

Amanda: Crohn’s disease fatigue is and has always been one of my biggest symptoms, regardless of flare status. Even when I am not experiencing a lot of pain or repeat trips to the bathroom, this often overwhelming sense of fatigue reaches around and grabs me from behind without much warning.

Some of the things I’ve learned to do when it comes to handling IBD fatigue include:

  1. Giving myself permission to rest when I can, to go to bed early, to sleep in a bit, even to nap, and to not apologize when asking my partner/co-parent/nanny to cover my responsibilities.
  2. Paying attention to my energy levels throughout the day, and utilizing times where I feel clearer of the head or less fatigued to get things done, allowing me to rest during the times that are generally more of a struggle.
  3. Setting aside things I can do in times of high fatigue - whether its shows to watch, books to read, music to listen to, pages to color, and knowing that when I feel drained, I already have a plan in place to take care of myself.

Accept a slower pace

Sahara: Well, I used to just push through and be proud that I could, but I kept finding myself completely burnt out, and then unable to function properly.

Eventually, I had to accept that I had to live my life at a slower pace than the average, healthy person. Before accepting it, I tried everything I could possibly think of, from dietary changes and supplements to changes in routine and alternative medicine/therapies. Ultimately, it became clear that I had to find a new normal.

There are no simple fixes, and it took a lot of trial and error, but I mainly manage OK now. For me, it’s a mix of being conscious about how I treat my body and what I put into it, plus listening to it so I know when to rest. Pacing myself has definitely helped me, but there are still times that I hit a wall because I had planned to do too much. Sometimes, you just don’t have the energy that you expected to have! The important thing is not to scold yourself for stopping and resting.

A quick nap or activity

Julie: A 20-minute nap has been my saving grace more times than I can count, especially when I was working in the corporate world. Fortunately, I lived close to my office so rather than eating during my lunch hour, I would go home and take a quick nap and then make a smoothie to drink on my walk back so that I didn’t lose time in the office.

When I can’t nap, I will take a short walk outside to get some fresh air and get my blood pumping and oxygen flowing to my brain. And, should the weather not permit an outdoor walk, I do some yoga stretches for 10-15 minutes to gain the same benefits as a walk—increased oxygen to the brain and blood flow. It does wonders for my mood and my energy and helps to keep me refocused for my tasks through the rest of the day.

Stick to a routine

Paul: Crohn's and UC fatigue is no joke! For me, it usually comes in waves. I feel great for a few days, then out of nowhere, "boom," I don't want to get out of bed. All I want to do is sleep! There are a few things I do to make the fatigue easier to handle. I first stick to a routine. Once I am off my routine, I really start to feel tired. The routine consists of going to bed and waking up at the same time. This does include the weekends. For example, I go to bed about ten in the nighttime and make sure to wake up around 5 am. It is very hard to do this on the weekends, but fatigue is worse.

I also try not to think about it. I blame being tired on my work. I don't blame it on the IBD. If I think like this, then, in reality, the fatigue doesn't really exist. I am aware that it is there, and I just have to deal with it.

Trial and error to find what works well

Jackie: I find that fatigue is a little bit of choosing your own adventure. Not everything works for everyone so you’ll need to trial and error what works for you. I usually try to handle daily fatigue with caffeine or sugar, which isn’t ideal, but it can usually get me over the fatigue hump. On days when I’m feeling extra fatigued, I let myself sleep or rest when I need to even if it’s inconvenient or causes me to bail out on plans.

I’ve been living with UC for over 10 years, and I’ve learned that when my body demands rest, the best thing to do is to give it that rest period because when I try to push through, I’m less productive, my work suffers, my relationships suffer, and I’m less happy.

Rest and not over-extending

Elizabeth: Fatigue is always a hard symptom to combat. Honestly, I just try to rest as much as possible and not push myself to the point where I will regret it later. I nap whenever I can, and although it doesn’t take the fatigue away, it does help slightly. 

I also like to plan my days strategically whenever the fatigue is severe. If I need to run errands or do chores around the house, I have to space everything out and only do one or two things for the entire day. I also make sure I am eating well, staying hydrated and resting when I can.

Don't lose sight of the things you enjoy

Kelly: I rest when I can. Resting can look different for many people. I enjoy listening to instrumental or piano music throughout my house. When I'm stressed and exhausted, I set a timer for 15-25 minutes to rest. If I fall asleep, that's okay.

My Crohn's tends to really affect me in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes, I have to force myself to stay in bed or just rest in bed for a while if I've been up all night with symptoms. It's very easy to get depressed when you're ill and have extra fatigue. I find it very important to really try to still do the things I enjoy so that don't lose sight, thinking this exhaustion will never end. Another huge factor that has helped me over the last 15 years is B-12 injections. I notice such a difference in my fatigue after I've injected.

Exercise to help mentally and physically

Marisa: I am someone who never sleeps through the night so I don’t really know the difference anymore between normal fatigue and fatigue-related to IBD. Either way, I generally feel exhausted which I know is incredibly common among those who suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. I try my best to rest as much as I can.

Even if I am not sleeping, laying in bed or on the couch with my eyes closed and all screens off seems to help me. When my body is able to, I often force myself to exercise. While it doesn’t negate the fatigue, it does make me feel better mentally which leads to me having a more productive day in general. Plus, feeling like I did something good for myself helps overshadow some of the exhaustion to a degree. I also think it is important to allow yourself to give in to the fatigue sometimes if possible. That doesn’t mean giving up or giving in but merely allowing your body to just BE. No pushing, no guilt.

Pay attention to nutritional deficiencies

Jenna: I always stay on top of potential nutritional deficiencies to make sure I'm not low in things like iron and vitamin D. Juicing helps give me a little bit of energy without all the fiber of fruits and veggies. Trying to eat homecooked meals is another one; batch cooking on healthy days can help, but sometimes it's so tempting to just eat junk food! Trying to focus on small tasks I can achieve can work wonders too: whether that's putting on some make-up, making juice, or going for a walk. These simple things make a big difference to your mindset but be careful not to do too much!

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