An adult woman with travel bags looks ahead to a city skyline, but a hoop of fire stands between her and the destination

First Comes Stress, Then Comes Diarrhea

Just like death and taxes, change is guaranteed in life. While I think most everyone struggles with navigating big changes, having ulcerative colitis can make that process even more harrowing. In my experience, change and the stress it brings has been a major trigger for flare-ups.

Two of my flares occurred following the end of long-term relationships, and another came on the cusp of moving to a new city for graduate school. Now that I'm nearing the end of graduate school and another big change is upon me, I have yet again experienced an increase in my UC symptoms – especially diarrhea.

Stress, flares, and diarrea

When I experience a flare, frequent diarrhea is usually my first warning sign. It serves as a signal to me that my body is under significant stress and is not coping well. Ideally, when I notice that diarrhea is becoming the norm rather than the exception when I go to the bathroom, I try to reduce and manage my stress by turning to go-to techniques like yoga, meditation, and taking more frequent breaks at work (or taking a couple of days off from work entirely).

Changing my diet during a flare

I also look to improve my diet by cutting out my already minimal intake of alcohol and spicy foods; however, these techniques do not provide much relief when dealing with a major life change that unavoidably brings regular, ongoing stress. Some changes are just inevitably stressful, and all the coping skills in the world won't change that.

Stress impacts my IBD symptoms

While I remind myself that virtually anyone would feel stressed about moving a thousand miles away to a new city where they know no one, I also know that people without IBD or other chronic health conditions are blessed to not have an added physical burden on top of that stress. For me, even a positive change like a new job opportunity means spending more hours in the bathroom, passing on invitations to go out to eat with friends, and managing increased medical expenses.

Stressed about stress with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's

As if the stress of moving isn't enough to deal with, I have to feel stressed about my stress, because I know that all the time that I spend worrying is only making my symptoms worse. Morning diarrhea is a constant reminder of that physical toll.

As much as I try to maintain a positive attitude and remind myself that everyone struggles with change, it's almost impossible to not feel deeply and painfully the unfair burden of this disease. Of course, everyone struggles with change, but not everyone's body is damaged by it. Many times, the only thing I want to do is lay down and rest, ignoring the world and my responsibilities; however, I know that the coming changes won't go away just because I don't feel like dealing with them today. Even when my ulcerative colitis doesn't play well with change, I still must.

Coping with change and IBD symptoms

In a world where change is a constant, learning to keep going in the face of what's new and uncertain is necessary. Despite having UC, I don't want to completely shut myself off from opportunities, connection, and growth. At the same time, trust me, I do appreciate a nice, relaxing day at home hiding away from the world. Ultimately, I realize I need both.

In order to face change without falling apart, I need those days where I cancel all the meetings and focus on taking care of myself. However, I know I can't give in to that urge every day, so on most days, I take the change and the diarrhea it brings with as much of a smile as I can muster, and I give myself a little extra grace on the days when a smile just won't come.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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