Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023 | Last updated: October 2023
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory condition affecting the digestive tract that can cause symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and fatigue. There are many ways people living with IBD can manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Medications to help treat IBD and manage its symptoms, such as aminosalicylates, immunomodulators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and biologic therapies are the most important part of the IBD treatment plan. They are treatments that are scientifically proven to have an effect on the disease and its symptoms.
In addition to medications, many people living with IBD also use complementary and alternative treatment options to manage their symptoms. While these therapies have not been proven to treat the underlying disease, they can be helpful for some people with IBD. One commonly used type of complementary therapy is the use of relaxation techniques. There is no scientific proof that stress plays a role in the causation of IBD, and no one develops Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis because they are a stressed out person.1 However, having a chronic condition like IBD can be stressful, and taking steps to help relieve stress can often be beneficial.
What are relaxation techniques?
Relaxation techniques are specific practices aimed at producing the body’s natural relaxation response.2 When the body is naturally relaxed breathing will slow down, blood pressure will lower, and the mind will be more at ease. This is the ultimate goal of relaxation techniques. There are a number of different types of relaxation techniques, including but not limited to:
Meditation is a practice of turning one’s attention inward and calming the mind. There are many different forms of meditation, some include meditative movements such as tai chi or yoga.
Guided imagery is a practice where the participant turns their attention and focus toward pleasant images in place of negative or stressful feelings. This can be practiced alone, led by a recording, or led by a practitioner.
Progressive relaxation, also known as Jacobson relaxation, is the practice of drawing awareness to various muscles throughout the body by tightening them and then releasing tension and stress in those areas by actively relaxing them.
Breathing exercises are often combined with different forms of meditation. The goal is typically to focus your awareness on the breath and actively slow the breath down by taking long deep inhales and slow drawn out exhales.
Self-hypnosis is often taught by a hypnosis instructor. The aim is to produce a relaxation response when prompted by a specific phrase or non-verbal cue.
What are the benefits of using relaxation techniques?
For some people, using relaxation techniques can help to reduce stress and promote an overall sense of well-being.3 Their use has been suggested to have a number of benefits including:
- Improving concentration, overall mood, and sleep quality
- Lowering fatigue, blood pressure, and heart rate
- Reducing levels of stress hormones and feelings of anger and frustration
- Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
- Boosting confidence to handle problems3
How might relaxation techniques help people with IBD?
It has been observed that some people with IBD may experience symptom flare-ups during times of high stress.1,4 Also, symptom flare ups can also cause stress to rise in some patients with IBD.1 Finding ways to manage stress can be a way to help manage symptoms associated with IBD. Relaxation techniques can be a good way for some people to manage stress in general, even if it is not related to symptom flare-ups.
What are the possible side effects of relaxation techniques?
Relaxation techniques are generally considered to be safe for most people.1 There have been some rare occasions where people report having more anxiety after practicing relaxation techniques. It is important to find a technique that will work for you. If you begin to experience unpleasant effects, immediately stop the practice and speak with a healthcare provider before continuing.