Dealing with Your Gut in Times of Grief
In the days following the massacre in Las Vegas there are no words to truly capture the heart-wrenching feelings that overcome us all. It’s mind boggling to even try and imagine being in that situation. It’s incredibly difficult to come to grips with the fact so many lost their lives and were injured from one senseless act. Even if you don’t have a personal tie to the tragedy, it hits close to home for us all.
As I watched the coverage holding my son, my heart physically hurt for everyone: the victims, the survivors, the witnesses, the helpers and for our country in general. There’s something about grief and the stress of life that hits us all in the core. That core being our intestinal tract. Watching the news and thinking about the what if’s and looking down at Reid in my arms kept my stomach in a constant state of gnawing pain. I knew part of it was my Crohn’s, but I also knew it was so much more.
The weight of the world is heavier than ever before.
Gone are the days when you can feel safe in public. I find myself constantly scoping out the crowd, making sure my back isn’t to the doors at restaurants and being mindful of where all the exits are. Seeing how quickly life can change in the blink of an eye makes us all face our own mortality on a daily basis.
Being a parent who battles a chronic illness, I always try and be proactive and do everything I can to keep myself healthy. It’s a big burden to try and stay healthy and safe every single moment, of every single day. And once you bring a child into the world—that worry multiples astronomically. It’s sad to look down at your baby and know he’s going to be raised in a world so different than the one you grew up in.
There’s a reason why many of us with IBD feel our symptoms get exacerbated in moments like this.
I’m referring to the “gut-brain connection”. It’s no surprise the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Feelings—whether excited, happy, sad, anxious—can all trigger a negative response in the gut. This intimate connection between the GI system and the brain can make it difficult to keep inflammatory bowel disease at bay. When you have IBD—this connection is not just a stomachache. It can land you in the hospital. It’s happened to me in the past and I’m doing all I can now, not to let it happen, again.
So what can we do in moments like this—when our lives seem overwhelmed by yet another unthinkable act of terrorism?
We can turn off the TV. This is coming from a former news anchor and reporter. It’s hard for me to turn away, I’m interested in news and watching how a story unfolds and is told. But, I’ve come to realize it only brings me pain and stress. Instead of focusing on all the negative, put on some music. Go for a walk. Enjoy silence with your loved ones.
Talk about something that brings you joy, share your feelings, and enjoy each moment with those who mean the most to you.
Take a break from allowing yourself to watch the images of people running for their lives and the sensory overload of listening to the gun shots ring out. There’s really no reason to keep watching that footage over and over again. Take moments at the beginning and end of your day to practice deep breathing exercises. Go to your happy place, if you will. Whatever helps you relax and unwind—is what you need to do. There’s no cookie cutter way for those of us with IBD to heal our daily pain, but we all can relate to what the gut-brain connection feels like.
Sadly, we know the tragedy in Vegas will not be the last. What is in our control is how we respond in these unthinkable moments and the difference we can make by banding together and focusing on the heroes and the helpers.