5 Tips for Dealing With Your Mental Health and Crohn's Disease
Each year, like most of the population, I set a New Year's resolution or two. Amongst the promises that flitter away by the 31st of January, one resolution that reappears year after year is my resolution to tackle my mental health; something which hugely impacts my Crohn's disease (and, of course, is also caused in parts by my Crohn's disease too). This year, after having my baby, I feel I have finally made some headway on improving my mental health. Although it still feels part of me and my condition, I thought I'd share the things that I've learned that have helped me so far in case your New Year's resolution is to work on your mental health too.
Counseling for improved mental health with Crohn's
Counseling isn't a magic fix: it takes time. Everybody asks 'have you tried counseling?' when you mention mental health. In fact, I wrote once that I felt everybody diagnosed with IBD should be offered it to help them manage their diagnosis. However, counseling doesn't always work. And when it does, it takes time. A lot of time. So don't pin all your hopes on talking therapy and keep persevering until you find somebody you feel comfortable talking with. It has taken four counselors to find someone who I feel is helping me make headway through CBT. But part of that is that I also abandoned the previous ones over the years as 'it wasn't working quick enough.' Impatience is definitely one personality trait I should try to work on too!
Changes to avoid stress and anxiety
Accept that you might need to make changes. A lot of us want to not let our illness dictate our lives but I have found that accepting I need to make changes to the way I live has helped lots. If there are things causing me stress-be that my job, friendships, and my social life-I can't just abandon them all but I can figure out adaptations and changes to help work around my mental and physical health. For example, I spent a few stressful trips traveling around South East Asia. While I'm grateful for the places I saw, I'm also realistic that when planning a vacation, picking a location where I can speak the language and have good hospitals should be a priority if I want to avoid anxiety months before I fly!
Treat mental health as you treat physical health
View your mental health the same way you view your physical health. This has been the most revolutionary realization of 2019! There are so many extraintestinal manifestations of IBD. If your joint pain flared or skin irritation worsened, you'd speak to a doctor and treat it as a medical issue. With my mental health, I was constantly trying to 'solve' each worry; rather than accepting it as a health issue. By accepting my mental health as a health implication of my Crohn's disease, I realized that I found it much easier to accept bad days (just like I accepted IBD bad days) and also seek treatment through antidepressants.
Anxiety and depression are common with IBD
Take comfort in the statistics. It's widely cited that incidents of depression and anxiety are much more prominent in those of us with inflammatory bowel disease. It's comforting to know that so many of us with IBD will struggle with our mental health and that you're never alone with it.
Bad moods and bad days
Sometimes it's just a bad day. Sometimes you will have bad mental health days and writing those off and owning it almost feels liberating to me. Sometimes there are no solutions or reasons, so rather than trying to 'fix' or figure out why it's happened, sometimes sitting with it (and realizing that tomorrow is another day entirely) can really help. I've also found tracking my cycle and moods can help too. I can't solve the hideous low moods before I get my period but at least I know why I feel that way and it should pass. Of course, seeking help when your mental health deteriorates is important and shouldn't be delayed.
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