The Tangled Web of Stress
Stress is something that everyone deals with on a daily basis. However, as an IBD patient, the amount of stress increases due to pain and other debilitating symptoms, medications and their side effects, doctor visits, co-pays, and other stressful things that make their way into our lives constantly.
While stress may not be a trigger for all inflammatory bowel disease patients, it is for me. If I don't keep my stress under control, my symptoms increasingly get worse and worse, until I'm left feeling pretty drained and in a lot of pain.
When I first got diagnosed, I was naively unaware of how stress impacted me, both personally and in regards to my health. I never thought of myself as a "stressed out" person but navigating life with Crohn's disease has taught me that I have to be extra careful of how much I let the events in life sway my mood.
Weaving holistic health into my life with Crohn's has proved to be beneficial in so many ways. However, one of the most important ways it has helped me is that I have learned quick and efficient ways to manage my stress. Since I (and a lot of other IBD patients) have a busy life, it was essential to me to figure out ways to manage my stress that I could take with me and use throughout my day.
The first easy stress management technique that I take with me every day is a breathing technique called 4-7-8 Breathing. This breathing technique is taught in the holistic health community by Dr. Andrew Weil M.D., and is an amazing tool to use whenever stressful events occur.
How to do 4-7-8 Breathing:
- Place your tongue at the top of your mouth right behind your front teeth.
- Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of four.
- Hold the breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale through your mouth (keeping your tongue in the same position) for a count of eight - Only four breaths are recommended at one time.
This breathing technique relaxes the nervous system and helps create a calm demeanor. It also gains effectiveness with practice.
The second easy stress management technique that I take with me every day is a mini gratitude list. While some people may write one down in the morning and carry it with them throughout their day, I utilize the gratitude exercise at the moment, when I'm overwhelmed with the stress in my life. I find that when I am stressed, I'm constantly worrying about the future (money, job, health, medications, procedures, etc.).
By writing down three things that I am grateful for in that stressed and anxious moment, I bring myself back to the present, in which I remember that (despite some of the hardships that I have in my life) I can always find something to be grateful for.
The third easy stress management technique that I utilize daily when I'm feeling anxious or overwhelmed is called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or "Tapping" for short. Tapping is an acupressure exercise that is beneficial for emotional health and can be used anywhere. EFT utilizes the same meridians that acupuncture uses, but with finger tapping instead of small needles.
How to use Tapping for stress relief:
- Use your index and middle finger to tap on specific EFT acupressure points (top of head, eyebrows, temples, under eyes, under nose, and on chin). Go in order from head down to chin.
- While tapping through points on body, repeat phrase out loud or silently: "Even though I have ______, I completely love and accept myself."
Repeat the tapping process and phrase until a decrease in the issue being tapped on occurs. More than one round of tapping might be needed in order to resolve a particular issue or problem.
While we can all agree that living with inflammatory bowel disease brings our stress to the next level, we can all also try to take an active approach in managing it as well. Weaving these and other stress management techniques and coping skills into our daily lives will not only help us work through the tangled web that stress creates for us, but could also help minimize our symptom exacerbations and help us be happier and healthier.