Managing My Anxiety With Ulcerative Colitis

Throughout my life, I've often been plagued by 2 a.m. thoughts, sweaty hands, and constant what-ifs about worst-case scenarios. Anxiety is a familiar companion, trying its best to take care of me, and often failing. Most of the time, it interrupts my day – or night – like a needy dog that has never been trained to sit, stay, behave.

The only time my anxiety dog cooperates is when I'm already in a worst-case scenario. Then, it lets me put the leash on and get on with walking. Its nose is pointed into the wind, ready for anything. Finally, it has purpose.

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Ulcerative colitis and anxiety

When it comes to ulcerative colitis, this is usually in the middle of a flare. When I’ve already come to terms with the new surge of diarrhea, blood, and cramps. I'm thankful for that, at least. Because before a flare, my anxiety dog is at its worst.

As soon as I start to suffer through the rumblings of explosive gas – which turns into diarrhea, which turns into blood on the toilet paper, which turns into pain in my left side, which turns into awful, bathroom trips of pure blood and pus – my anxiety dog starts barking at its loudest pitch.

The worry that comes with a new flare

I suspect this is because my anxiety is often connected to worrying about all the bad things that could happen. And at the start of a flare, it's easy to get caught up in horrible scenarios.

My mind starts wandering: What if this lasts 6 months? A year? Forever? What if I can't find a medicine that works for me? What if I go through surgery, but that causes more problems? What if I never recover, and I never get to enjoy going out with my friends and family again? What if I'm trapped at home, eating a bland diet, for the rest of my days, and everyone leaves me?

None of this is really helpful, I know. Instead of indulging my anxiety dog, I should be calling up the doctor, listing out my symptoms, and making a plan.

Caught up in anxiety with UC

But it is easy to get caught up in anxiety, and to feel like that overthinking is actually a form of planning and preparation. I trick myself into thinking that my thoughts will help me just as much as trying a new medicine or altering my diet in meaningful ways.

I've actually gone to therapy to try to help me train my anxiety dog. Some of the techniques I've learned have helped, and some haven't. Each person is different, and their mind works differently. And certain diagnoses, like mine, make dealing with anxiety harder.

But over time, and with help of various therapists, I've come up with a few techniques that have helped me.

My 3 tips on coping with ulcerative colitis anxiety

Give yourself permission to feel your feelings

Dealing with ulcerative colitis is hard. A lot of people don't have to manage this type of chronic condition – and most people would be worried about their health outcomes. With that in mind, I do my best to let myself feel my feelings.

If I need to cry, I cry. If I need to scream into a pillow, I do it. If I need to worry, I let myself do so – but then I try to feel the emotionunderneath the worrying. Most of the time, it is fear.

Despite being afraid of a lot of things – some that have to do with ulcerative colitis and some that don't – I often don't really let myself feel fear. I've conditioned myself to use overthinking as a way to combat my fear. So, I take a breath. I even talk to myself and ask myself what I'm really feeling. Soon, I learn that I'm terrified.

Sitting with that is uncomfortable, but accepting it is a natural response. And telling myself that sometimes helps lead to more calm.

Make a to-do list

Once I feel calmer, I try to come up with a clear checklist of what I can do to combat this flare. I often include reaching out to my doctor, changing up our meal planning for the week, and adding more rest into my schedule.

Giving myself some clear next steps often helps me feel more in control of the situation, and thus, less anxious. This is vital, because the more I worry, the more my gut seems to act up. For example, I end up with looser stools.

By focusing on what I need to do to take care of myself, I can redirect my anxious energy into more productive tasks.

Lean into "I don't know"

For me, a big part of my anxiety is fear of the unknown. If I don't know what will happen, my mind comes up with all sorts of scenarios and spends a lot of time preparing for each one. This can take time out of my day, and generally, can get obsessive.

Instead of indulging my mind, I try to agree with my scary thoughts. I tell myself that the bad scenario I've come up with could happen. I don't know exactly how I would handle it, but I would find my way.

I tell myself I have self-confidence and I know that I am strong. So, no matter what, everything will work out. This type of self-talk has really helped me recognize that even in a chaotic situation, I can still depend on myself. That makes me feel more balanced and at ease with whatever comes my way.

Managing my UC and anxiety is an ongoing process

I've come to love my anxiety dog in its own way. It is loyal and wants to be my side to protect me. But sometimes, it just needs to give me space.

With these techniques, I've learned to ignore my anxiety dog's whining and just let it go play in the yard, far away from me.

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