A worried woman holds her face as her brain swirls around.

Managing My UC During Times of Stress and Anxiety

It’s no wonder I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) at age 19. As a child, I learned to wad up my feelings as tight as they’d go and stuff them down…deep. No one wanted to hear my crying. I grew up in dysfunction, and everyone around me had their own way of shutting down. So, I’d push and shove those terrible, awful thoughts of fear, anxiety, and unworthiness as deep down as I could into the pit of my body.

Little girl Traci had no other place to put all those heavy worries and burdens. In the form of a suitcase approach, I packed them away, and that became a coping mechanism that continued into adulthood.

Today, my current environment is stressful, but in different ways from childhood.

Surrounded by stress

My husband is scheduled for stoma reversal surgery in two weeks. We dealt with a gastrointestinal health scare 6 months ago, and now he anxiously awaits reversal surgery. For the past year, I’ve also been helping him finish his bachelor’s degree. In addition, I’m a public high school teacher who stands in the midst of the most anxious teenage generation I’ve ever confronted in my 31-year teaching career. Plus, my 78-year old mother is dealing with her own physical and mental health issues. In other words, I’m surrounded by stress, and that energy flows in-and-around me all day long.

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Managing anxiety with colitis

So, what helps a person with IBD easily navigate the daily challenges and stressors surrounding them? Managing UC in an anxious environment is a constant challenge. As many of us know in this community, stress and anxiety can exacerbate our IBD symptoms. As if the health condition itself isn’t difficult enough, adding the mental toll is just another heavy layer on top of physical suffering.

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For my own body, I’ve learned that when my stress response gets activated, then my colitis dragon has a way of rearing its ugly head in the form of a flare.

Strategies for navigating stress and anxiety

I decided to focus my energies on listing the various ways that I and others can manage their anxieties when living with Crohn’s or UC.

Here are some suggestions that I’ve had to grab on to — especially lately as my stress load has increased:

Breathing and movement

I am a firm believer in deep breathing exercises. My immediate exercise consists of inhaling for a count of 1, 2, 3, 4 and exhaling for 7 counts. Another technique I try to squeeze in is meditation. Honestly, I just haven’t had a spare moment here lately for even 5-minutes of meditation. So, my alternative to meditation is going for a walk. I get up and move. To me, movement is medicine. And when the pressure builds up inside, I find a place to walk. Whether I walk around my classroom or outside, it doesn’t matter because movement has a magical way of shifting negative thoughts out of the way. In essence, that is meditation.

Healthy lifestyle habits

Whether I feel like it or not, I get on the treadmill and move for 30 minutes every day. Personally, I prefer doing this first thing in the morning, but do what works best into your schedule. I know me. If I wait until after work to exercise, it won’t happen. I’m too tired after a day of work. But others prefer exercise as their winding down time.

Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night is also vital for managing stress. Herein lies my problem. I have not been able to get enough sleep lately. But, with the end of another school year, I hope to get my sleep hygiene back on track.

Finally, eat nutritious foods. Avoid junk foods. I’ve learned that I stress-eat. So, junk food is dangerous around me when I’m stressed out. So, avoid trigger foods and grab foods that tame your colitis or Crohn’s dragon.

Professional support

Seeking therapy or counseling can offer a wonderful opportunity to not only vent anxieties and fears, but a good counselor can provide valuable coping strategies. Keep appointments and check-ups with your IBD specialist/physician and take prescribed medications regularly. In addition, I’ve learned to check and make sure my medications do not have psychological side effects. I don’t want to worsen my anxiety, so I always read labels.

Routine and organization

As annoying as this part might be to those around me, I’ve learned over the years that routine and structure help me maintain a calm mindset and offers me stability. I may not be able to control my UC, but I can control my actions with a daily routine. I offer room for flexibility, but I stick to a routine and organization to keep anxieties at bay.

Relaxation techniques

Some people use progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body. I prefer stretching different parts of my body when I get super stressed. Twisting or bending at the waist, neck rolls, and squats help me to unload tension. Visualizing calm and peaceful scenes can divert one’s thoughts. I usually look at pictures of my dog or my grandchildren, and I’m instantly calmed. Creating voice memos or journaling your thoughts helps a person process emotions and reduce anxiety. My siblings and I communicate via voice memos, and listening to those helps me to process through my challenging thoughts.

Social support

Leaning on friends and trusted family members is priceless. Communicating about life’s stressors is its own form of therapy. Again, talking to my dog — who I consider a trusted family member — has become essential therapy for me. In addition, taking nature walks with her and brushing her fur each day soothes and calms me.

Unpacking the suitcase of worry

Whichever of these technique(s) you choose to help you relax, you can’t go wrong. Each person is different, and what works for me might not work for you. You know you best. So, grab on to your strategies when times tend to overwhelm.

Right now, I’ve been feeling more like the little girl version of me with all of her fears and frustrations getting shoved down and ignored, but big girl me knows that isn’t healthy. In short, I wrote this article to remind myself how I can unpack that suitcase of worry instead of carrying it around. No one wants to carry a heavy load. And my gut especially doesn’t like it. So, I needed reminding that I don’t have to.

How do you cope with IBD while navigating stress and anxiety? Please share your thoughts. Your suggestions just might help someone else—like me.

Treatment results and side effects can vary from person to person. This treatment information is not meant to replace professional medical advice. Talk to your doctor about what to expect before starting and while taking any treatment.
This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The InflammatoryBowelDisease.net 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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