Stress and IBD: Thoughts and Tips
We all know stress can have a very negative impact on our health, but when you suffer from a chronic illness like inflammatory bowel disease, you have probably heard this from a wide range of people. I do want to state for the record that stress does not cause anyone to be diagnosed with either Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis. No one got IBD because they are a stressed out individual. I always hated this misconception which is why I feel a huge need to share this fact right up front.
Stress can worsen our symptoms of UC or Crohn's
Anyway, while stress cannot cause inflammatory bowel disease, it can exacerbate symptoms in some people once they have Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis. This isn’t true for everyone but it is for many, which is why it is important to figure out small ways to manage some of the stressful things in your life.
Stress is unavoidable at times
I also want to be very real with you guys. I know a lot of the stresses in life cannot be avoided.
I was with my partner at his doctor’s appointment a couple of years ago and he asked a question about taking something if he is stressed. He wanted to know if that would have any impact on his issues. The doctor responded to him by saying, “oh, once you do this all of your stresses will go away!” I am only being vague because I want to respect his privacy but what was being recommended to him was a lifestyle change. We STILL joke about that appointment to this day because it is ridiculous for someone to make that kind of statement.
We can't completely eliminate stress
Point being, I am someone who really understands that we can meditate all day, everyday, and life will still happen. I can tell you to just let everything go and accept that life isn’t really in your control but as we all know, easier said than done.
Unpredictable things will be thrown our way. We will all go through hard times and we will all have some stress in our lives. To claim that a lifestyle change will completely get rid of stress is a quack. To claim that reading some of my thoughts/experiences about managing stress will eradicate all of the things that are stressors in your world would be BS.
Ways I try to combat my stress
I get it. Trust me. I do, however, feel like we all have something to learn from one another. Below are three of the things I find exacerbate my stress levels and ways I try to combat it.
Not sleeping well or at all makes it impossible for me to handle anything. Therefore, everything stresses me out when I don’t sleep well. I have resisted taking medications to help me because it makes me feel like a “failure.” I would wait till 4 or 5am before giving in and taking something because I would be down on myself for not sleeping like a “normal” person. I am still trying to ingrain this in my head, but remember you are not a bad person for doing whatever you have to in order to get some sleep. Aside from having a lot of physical benefits, sleeping allows for better mood regulation. So, when a stressful situation or time arises, a person who has had some sleep is in a better place to manage it than a severely sleep deprived individual. Do what helps you and don’t feel badly about it.
Break things up
When I have a stressful day ahead of me, I try very hard to break things up so it doesn’t seem so insurmountable. I usually write down all of the things I need to get done or get through each day and check them off once they are completed. I try my hardest to focus on one small thing at a time so my anxiety doesn’t go into overdrive. Keeping my anxiety in check usually prevents my heart from racing and all those other fun things that stress can bring.
Sometimes, you need to have nothing planned
Even though I feel very lazy when I watch TV during the day, I have found that sometimes taking time out to watch a distracting show with a soothing hot drink can help me emotionally. It reminds me that I am okay. It reminds me that nothing is so dire. It reminds me that I come first and if I don’t take care of me, I won’t be good for anyone else or be the person I want to be. Sometimes, taking the time to do whatever it is you want to do is a great reminder that pushing yourself too much can lead to feeling overly stressed. And, it is not worth it.
We would love to hear some of your thoughts about stress as it relates to your chronic illness! Have any tips or thoughts that come to mind about this topic?
Will you help us understand the impact of Crohn's & colitis by taking the IBD In America Survey (US only)?