National Stress Awareness Day: Is There a Link to IBD?

Emails. Phone calls. "Chat" messages. "Ms. Musick, can you help me?"

Teach. Change Class. Change subject matter. Bell rings. Intercom interruptions.

As a classroom teacher, I am inundated with daily stressors almost moment to moment. Rarely do I have a peaceful minute throughout the day. With ulcerative colitis, this environment can take a toll on my body.

Stress goes right to my gut

Most often, I can feel an elevation in my blood pressure. My head pounds. Palms get sweaty. Then, pain shoots straight into my gut.

After more than 30 years of living with UC, I know that my symptoms worsen whenever I feel stressed. So, this bodes the question: Can stress be linked to IBD?

On the first Wednesday in November, National Stress Awareness Day aims to focus on the importance of reducing stress factors in one’s life. That can be challenging for one who struggles with UC or Crohn's.

When stress causes an IBD flare

Although research seems to indicate that stress doesn’t cause IBD, it can be responsible for triggering a flare-up of symptoms.

So, what is a sufferer to do when stress factors exacerbate a disease?

Well, National Stress Awareness Day reminds us to consciously notice the factors that stimulate the immune system. A stimulated system causes increased inflammation throughout the body — including the colon. Along the gut-brain axis, gastrointestinal muscles are controlled by nerve signals.

So, finding ways to lower the stressors in our lives is of utmost importance.

Lowering stress with IBD

First, establishing a routine will help lessen any tension in the body. So, when you feel the internal elevation brought on by stress, ask yourself, "What helps to reduce tension?"

Then, those activities should be the first steps you take for relief.

Now, I know every person’s body is different. In other words, what works to ease your mind and body might be different for someone else.

How I try to lower my stress response

For me, I take deep breaths when stress arises. Then, going for a quick walk also helps. Full disclosure here, going for a walk isn’t always a viable option when I have a classroom full of teenagers. So, I’ve learned when I feel stress mounting, I take a moment (or 2) to look out my classroom window. I pay attention to the sky and take deep breaths.

Students don’t even notice when I do this. I call it a "zone out" moment. That’s literally what I do when I look out the window.

In effect, this quick respite allows me to put the stress into perspective. Internally, I ask myself: Is this stress worth the physical toll? Remember what can happen to your gut. Is this moment in time worth the pain? This self-inquiry offers me the opportunity to push aside the current stress.

My other de-stressing tactics

Then, when my planning period or lunch rolls around, I force myself to take a short walk throughout the building. I’ve even begun to force myself to step outside for a short stint on nice-weather days. Breathing in fresh air also brings renewed clarity that seems to dissipate internal stress clouds.

Once home, I enjoy taking a dip into some Epsom salts while listening to meditation music. Granted, I am now an "empty-nester," so those with young children might not be able to take time for a warm bath. Other alternatives I enjoy are doing yoga, journaling, writing down what I’m grateful for, and exercising for at least 30 minutes.

Exercise is key because neurotransmitters get released that help relieve anxiety. In short, exercise can have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Keeping stress and IBD flares at bay

If you can offer other suggestions for reducing tension, please post your ideas on social media using #StressAwarenessDay. You might be surprised at how offering ideas to others can also reduce tension within yourself.

Above all, remember Happy mind. Happy body.

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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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